DOD Animal Research:

Controls on Animal Use Are Generally Effective, but Improvements Are Needed

NSIAD/HEHS-99-156: Published: Jul 8, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 8, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Defense's (DOD) management and oversight of its animal research programs, focusing on the extent projects funded or performed by DOD utilizing animals: (1) were directed toward military objectives; (2) unnecessarily duplicated other research; and (3) incorporated alternatives that reduced, replaced, or refined the use of animals.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD's controls over animal use were generally effective, but some improvements are needed to further ensure that animals are used appropriately; (2) GAO was able to link all but one of the 805 animal use projects in fiscal year 1996 to a military objective or a congressionally directed program; (3) about half the projects were directed toward military research objectives that evolved from formal DOD planning processes, while about 35 percent supported DOD missions such as medical training and education; (4) another 15 percent did not address a direct military need but were part of congressionally directed programs such as breast cancer research; (5) many of the projects that addressed military objectives also had civilian applications such as emergency medicine; (6) GAO did not identify any unnecessary duplication in the 24 research projects it reviewed; (7) DOD employed measures to avoid or minimize unnecessary duplication; (8) these measures included requiring investigators to conduct and document literature searches and submit project proposals for scientific and animal use reviews; (9) although the inherent limitations of any literature search constrain DOD's ability to identify and avoid unnecessary duplication, DOD needs to clarify its requirement that investigators search particular databases of ongoing research to ensure that searches are consistently implemented; (10) although DOD considered and incorporated alternatives to replace and reduce the use of animals in the 24 research projects GAO reviewed, investigators could have used additional alternatives to refine experimental procedures in 8 of them; (11) these refinements could have improved the welfare of the animals without compromising the projects' objectives; (12) for example, routine pain relief could have been administered in five studies of burn treatments; (13) in two other studies, animals could have been euthanized earlier than the investigators proposed without affecting research results; and (14) however, GAO was unable to determine the extent to which refinement alternatives were considered in the development and review of these protocols because records did not document the alternatives that were considered and not adopted.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and amended the standard institutional animal care and use committee protocol to require investigators to search appropriate databases for research in progress.

    Recommendation: To further reduce the likelihood of proposed research unnecessarily duplicating other research, the Secretary of Defense should clarify DOD's policy regarding which databases of research in progress investigators must search.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD concurred with GAO's recommendation and changed the standard institutional animal care and use protocol to require research investigators to identify refinement alternatives and list those that were considered but not adopted and explain why.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should further facilitate the consideration of refinement alternatives by investigators and the institutional animal care and use committees. The DOD standard animal use protocol form should be amended to require investigators to identify refinement alternatives that were considered but not adopted and explain why they were not adopted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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