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Columbia University in the City of New York Medical Research with Animals
Columbia University in the City of New York Medical Research with Animals
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Only a small portion of all medical research involves animals, but that proportion is vitally important for scientists to find out how potential new treatments work in a living organism, before they are tested and used in people.

Following are answers to frequently asked questions about the animal research carried out at Columbia University.

Why does research at Columbia University involve the use of animals?
Columbia seeks to discover medical breakthroughs that will help treat and eliminate debilitating diseases that affect millions of individuals worldwide. When alternatives, such as cell cultures and computer models, cannot provide the needed answers or when it is too early in the discovery process to test treatments on humans, the use of animal-based research is necessary. Columbia is committed to the ethical, humane use of animals in biomedical research when all other options have been determined to be inadequate or inappropriate.
Which animals are used for research?
As at other major research institutions that conduct animal research, nearly 95% of all animals used for medical research at Columbia University are rats, mice and other rodents. Dogs represent approximately 1%, and non-human primates and monkeys less than 1% of all animals used. The researchers make every effort to use the most appropriate animal model for the disease being studied.
Who takes care of the animals used in research?
Columbia's highly trained veterinarians and veterinary staff are committed to the care and well-being of animals. Every animal at Columbia is monitored and cared for by the veterinary staff of the Institute of Comparative Medicine. The proper, compassionate care of research animals is both a moral imperative and critical to the success of a study. A dedicated team ensures that the animals are properly housed and fed and provided with prompt medical attention when needed.
What is Columbia University doing to ensure that the research involving animals is conducted humanely?
Columbia complies with all federal regulations and guidelines for the use of animals in research, established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) of the National Institutes of Health. USDA veterinarians regularly conduct scheduled and unscheduled inspections of all animal research facilities.

Columbia University Medical Center is one of 650 research institutions accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), a private, non-profit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through a voluntary accreditation program. The Medical Center goes through a voluntary extensive re-accreditation process every three years.

Columbia has an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) comprised of scientists, veterinarians and community representatives who review research proposals. The IACUC decides whether the researchers may conduct a study involving the use of animals and the parameters of such use. Some of the questions considered by the IACUC are:
  • whether the research will provide new and useful information;
  • whether animals are absolutely necessary to achieve the result;
  • whether a different species would answer the same question (i.e., a rat instead of a pig); and
  • whether a smaller number of animals would be sufficient.
The well-being of animals is a prime consideration on the part of the researchers themselves, as well as the veterinarians and animal care technicians who work with these animals. Pragmatically, it is in the best interests of the experiments to maintain the physical and social well-being of the animals.

Where does Columbia University get its research animals?
All animals involved in research at Columbia are supplied through federally regulated sources. Columbia does not obtain animals from animal shelters nor do we purchase animals from individuals.
Do animals benefit from research?
Humans are not the only species benefiting from animal medical research. New medical advances are used by veterinarians to save pets, enhance the health of farm animals and preserve a healthy future for wildlife and endangered species. Many technologies and drug therapies developed in animals for the benefit of humans are also routinely applied in veterinary care—such as vaccines and surgical techniques. Pets live longer, healthier lives because of animal medical research.
Does the University make efforts to use alternative methods whenever possible?
Yes. Before a researcher is permitted to use animals in medical research, a proposal must be presented to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The proposal must state why the study cannot be done using alternatives to animals, such as computer or cell studies. When these methods are appropriate, they must be used. However, many biological and chemical processes need to be analyzed in a living system before being tested in human subjects. Our investigators work through a progression of studies, often over many years, that begin with simple questions and move toward complex questions using animals. The final step is research involving humans.
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