World Day for Laboratory Animals...At the KIST Research Animal Resources Center
- Date : 23-06-19
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KIST reaffirms the importance of respecting life through the annual memorial ceremony for laboratory animals.
With active research on the utilization of organoids,
KIST is striving to reduce sacrificing of laboratory animals.
Many animals are sacrificed each year for cosmetic and pharmaceutical toxicity testing. According to a survey by the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency, the number of laboratory animals used in South Korea reached 4.88 million in 2021. This represents a significant increase of 17.8% compared with that of the previous year, indicating a growing trend in laboratory animal use.
April 24 has been designated as World Day for Laboratory Animals by the British National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) to promote the reduction of animal sacrifice in research. In accordance with this, numerous research institutes hold memorial ceremonies in April to honor the spirits of animals sacrificed for scientific advancements. KIST researchers also observed the memorial ceremony at the KIST Research Animal Resources Center last April. Following the establishment of its animal experimentation facility in 2002, KIST has begun observing the memorial ceremony since 2004.
Senior specialist Ji-Wan Woo from the Center commented, "Engaging in research can sometimes desensitize us to the animals being used in experiments. Through the memorial ceremony, we are provided with an opportunity to reflect on whether we are using appropriate animals for our research, using them in suitable numbers without misuse or overuse, and whether we possess the necessary skills to handle experimental animals. I hope that researchers will embrace a mindset that values life and respects laboratory animals.”
Small but special KIST Research Animal Resources Center
After the establishment of the Neuroscience Center in 2000, KIST acquired its own animal research facility. Initially, researchers used to raise mice within their respective labs for research purposes. However, as the number of laboratory animals grew, and regulations concerning animal welfare were implemented, it became apparent that dedicated animal facilities and appropriate environments were crucial. Therefore, KIST made the decision to establish a separate animal research facility to address these issues.
Currently, KIST maintains a laboratory space of approximately 200-pyeong, or 662 m2, housing various laboratory animals, including normal wild-type mice, genetically modified mice, immunodeficient mice, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs. Among these, mice comprise approximately 95% of the total population, with approximately 15,000 individuals. Senior specialist Ji-Wan Woo explained, "Mice share approximately 80% of their genes with humans, and their short lifespan of 2 to 3 years makes them well suited for research purposes such as aging studies and drug efficacy testing.”
The laboratory animal living spaces are systematically managed. Regular microbial monitoring is conducted for 29 types of pathogens. To prevent contamination, KIST has implemented a triple-filtered ventilation system, sterilizers, disinfectants, and individual recirculating cage systems.
The first thing you see as you enter the laboratory is a large monitor. It provides a comprehensive view of the laboratory animals living in their cages through security cameras and allows observation of the facility's compliance with regulations regarding facilities, waterproofing, soundproofing, environment, temperature, and lighting. An automated 24-h notification system is also in place, alerting center personnel in case of any abnormalities. All items and food that come into contact with the animals are sterilized before being provided. The living spaces for the laboratory animals are systematically managed, with the lights turned off and a humidity level of 50% and a constant temperature of 22° maintained during the night.
While the KIST Research Animal Resources Center may be smaller in size compared with Yonsei University (approximately 2,700-pyeong, or 8,937 m2) and the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology branch in Ochang (approximately 1,000-pyeong, or 3,310 m2), it stands out for its significant number of genetically modified mice (12,000 of 15,000 mice are genetically modified). Genetically modified mice are mice in which specific genes have been removed or modified, allowing for research on gene function and the relationship with diseases. According to Senior specialist Woo, the center supports a wide range of research, from genetic-, protein-, and cellular-level studies to diseases, such as brain tumors, cancer, and dementia, as well as fields, such as artificial organs, stem cells, and AI neural networks.
Another key characteristic is that KIST preserves genetically modified mice that are not required for research purposes through methods, such as embryo and sperm cryopreservation. Currently, KIST maintains a collection of approximately 150 different strains.
Reducing avoidable sacrifices…KIST launches research on the use of organoids
With the increasing societal awareness and concern regarding laboratory animals, research that minimizes their use has gained much attention. For instance, the European Union (EU) has prohibited the import, distribution, and sale of cosmetics tested on animals since 2013. The United States prohibited the use of laboratory animals for chemical safety assessments since 2019, with a complete ban set to be implemented by 2035. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also announced that since last year, they will accept results from alternative approaches, such as organoids, for new drug development. The global trend is anticipated to shift toward reducing the number of animals used in experiments and minimizing their suffering.
In keeping abreast with the shifting research landscape, KIST has begun conducting studies utilizing organoids, also known as mini-organs, since last year and plan to fully launch them this year. It plans to leverage its strengths as a comprehensive research institute and launch initiatives to collaborate with other research institutes.
Senior specialist Woo explained, “KIST is actively working to develop an evaluation platform system for drug efficacy assessment using pre-existing organoids. This platform provides an ethical and cost-effective alternative to animal testing, while also offering scalability advantages. The organoid-based efficacy evaluation platform is expected to enable automation and other technological advancements. KIST is currently discussing potential collaborations with its in-house AI-Robotics Institute and Technology Support Center to further enhance this initiative.”
In addition, the center is currently developing a standardized data-based evaluation platform for mood disorders. Specifically, it aims to construct a platform utilizing standardized data derived from animal behavior analysis using animal models of autism and depression. Senior specialist Woo commented, "We anticipate that this platform will expedite the evaluation of new effective substances, reduce human and material resources, and ultimately decrease the number of animals used in research."
“Despite running 24/7, the work is rewarding"
With a vast interest in genetic characteristics and function research, Senior specialist Woo first joined KIST in 2002 as a researcher at the Brain Science Institute. The animal laboratory at the Brain Science Institute's Neuroscience Research Division grew in size as it was transformed to the Research Animal Resources Center in 2015. While pursuing a doctoral degree at the Brain Science Institute at that time, he became affiliated with the Research Animal Resources Center and took on responsibilities related to the management and preservation of genetically modified mice, the operation of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) for ethical use of laboratory animals and the maintenance of animal facilities and facility safety management.
The staff dashes to the Center, working day or not, once the 24-h alarm system goes off. Senior specialist Woo, who is primarily responsible for facility management at the Center, dedicated three whole years to safeguard the center, even on weekends and nights, as the number of animals increased after the expansion and remodeling of the facility.
Although they must be prepared to work even during the weekends, the researchers at the Center, including senior specialist Woo, derive a sense of fulfillment from their work encompassing research and the conscientious management of laboratory animals. He commented, "I am fully committed to ensuring the safe and secure management of laboratory animals and endeavoring to develop novel models that minimize any avoidable sacrifices.”