Should You Have a Lab Animal Health Status or Standard?

Should you have a Lab Animal Health Status or Standard? When considering animal health in your research or ordering mice from a commercial provider, which is more significant: a health status or a health standard?

While the words "status" and "standard" seem similar, there are clear differences in their definitions and how you might apply each to a health monitoring, detection and reporting system.

Let's start by defining our terms:
  • Status — state or condition of affairs with the following synonyms listed: position, condition, situation, rating
  • Standard — serving as a basis of weight, measure, value, comparison, or judgment with the following synonyms listed: accepted, requirement, specification, ideal

The dictionary definition for standard states that "in chemistry, the standard state of a material (pure substance, mixture or solution) is a reference point used to calculate its properties under different conditions." Note the use of reference point. A reference point is a basis for evaluation, assessment, or comparison. Therefore, use of a standard in animal health programs provides a basis for evaluation.

Status is where you are, but does not connote a target, goal, or reference point. Conversely, a standard is something that you need to meet or work towards. Using a standard helps people on your team understand the objectives of their work: What are the accepted or excluded organisms? What are the measures put in place to assure meeting a defined standard? What happens if testing reveals an excluded organism?

One good example of a standard used in health monitoring is the FELASA Guideline published in 2012 and updated on a regular basis. Note the word "requirement" used in its last sentence: "The FELASA guidelines and recommendations are not regulatory but rather are proposals based on scientific knowledge and the state of the art of laboratory animal science activities. Because they are supported by laboratory animal science associations that represent the vast majority of European professionals, these guidelines and recommendations have influenced the development of various regulatory requirements in Europe, including those related to education and training, routine laboratory animal activities, and animal health monitoring."

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are commonplace in life science research and help bring order to a process when many people perform the same task across facilities. By standardizing a procedure, achieving reproducible results is possible even when two different people are performing the same task independently. SOPs help lab animal facilities meet their defined animal health standard.

Taconic Biosciences has been using Health Standards to guide our daily colony management practices for over thirty years. Those standards evolved over time as newly identified organisms were shown to affect research and user requirements changed.

One of those standards is Murine Pathogen Free™, or MPF™. As a standard, there is a defined list of excluded organisms as well as SOPs that govern how to care for mice and rats raised at the MPF™ standard. The use of a standard helps customers around the world know that when they order an MPF™ mouse in the USA, Europe, or India, the health will be identical as it relates to excluded organisms.

While the aim of science is to be as precise as possible, the use of laboratory animals can be imprecise at times. Lab animals present challenges when considering all the variables that biology can impart. The use of health standards can help reduce one set of variables and understand what to do with the detection of excluded organisms.

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