The Division has a significant service commitment to the Center's research programs.
Animal colony management and care is provided through the cooperation of several different units within the Division of Veterinary Medicine including Clinical and Research Medicine, Behavioral Management, and Animal Resources. The TNPRC animal colonies include the research colony and the breeding colonies. The breeding colonies are specific pathogen free (SPF). The specific pathogen free colonies are comprised of animals that are free of targeted viruses that have the potential to affect health or could confound infectious disease research. Several species of nonhuman primates are represented at the TNPRC for a total population of approximately 5000. Rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) make up the largest percentage of the population. The TNPRC has both Chinese origin and Indian origin M. mulatta. These regional variants have been maintained as separate populations in the breeding colony.
The Unit of Animal Resources is a service unit that provides routine husbandry care for the animal colonies at the Center. The Unit also has responsibility to provide support to the Units of Clinical and Research Medicine and Behavioral Management, and to core and affiliate scientists. The Unit assists the Center in complying with relevant regulatory requirements including, but not limited to, those of the USDA, Public Health Service (PHS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Routine husbandry practices include the reporting of any abnormal clinical sign or activity by animals to the appropriate veterinary medical staff and faculty. Animal Care Technicians provide support during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures and the administration of the preventive medicine program. The Unit closely coordinates its activities with research personnel to provide assistance, equipment and support for their work. The Unit of Animal Resources provides after-hours care, which includes administration of treatments, collection of biologic samples for research activities and observation of animals. The TNPRC facilities are accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC).
A veterinarian examines all animals entering the TNPRC after arrival in the quarantine facility. During the quarantine period, a minimum of three TB tests are performed in addition to Primagam testing, fecal examination for parasites, rectal swab bacterial culture, serum chemistry, complete blood count, thin and thick blood smears for parasites, and testing for type D simian retrovirus. At each sample collection time point, a veterinarian performs a body weight measurement and physical examination. Prior to release from quarantine, all animals must have a normal thoracic radiograph, negative TB skin test and negative Primagam test.
Animals are housed and separated based on species and infections they have encountered. Prior to assignment to research protocols, all nonhuman primates have a physical examination performed by the veterinarian assigned to the research project to determine fitness for the particular study. A specific veterinarian is assigned to each research project at the time of IACUC review. This procedure allows continuity in the provision of care to individual animals. Breeding colony animals are housed in outdoor social groups. A minimum of twice yearly, all animals in a social group receive tuberculin testing, reproductive evaluations, and examination for pregnancy. Body weights, physiological samples, and demographic data are collected, and genealogical records are updated. Data collection and entry into the computerized animal records database allows the careful analysis of breeding colony production and clinical data.
The Unit of Behavioral Management is dedicated to improving nonhuman primate well-being through collaboration with the units of Clinical and Research Medicine and Animal Resources. The Tulane Environmental Enhancement Plan involves a number of strategies that are implemented according to animal needs and research requirements. The Plan is dynamic, permitting modification of techniques in accordance with in-house assessments and the scientific literature. New items are added to the program through an approval system including veterinary staff, animal care supervisory staff, and Behavioral Scientist. Conspecific social contact is the most critical element of the enrichment program, in recognition of the social nature of nonhuman primates. The socialization program places nonhuman primates into social groupings when compatible with research protocols, and dedicated staff monitors social introductions, ongoing compatibility, and social group dynamics. Other elements of the behavioral management program include nonhuman primate/human positive interaction, feeding enrichment, structural enhancements, manipulable objects, and devices permitting foraging, grooming, problem-solving, and sensory enrichment. Several enrichment techniques are utilized concurrently with each individual nonhuman primate, scaled to the number and intensity of other feasible elements. Daily enrichment is implemented by Animal Care Technicians and Environmental Enrichment personnel.
The Tulane Resource Allocation Committee (TRAC) was created to evaluate all proposed research projects that request utilization of the resources of the Center. The Committee, composed of ten members, includes research scientists, veterinarians, program coordinators and the animal colony epidemiologist. Several members represent facilities and programs from outside the Center. Requests are reviewed after both IACUC approval and funding is in place. Once TRAC approval is in place, the Division of Veterinary Medicine assigns the animal or space resource as it becomes available. Since the inception of the TRAC in 2001, animal allocations to affiliate (outside) investigators has been approximately 60% of the total, with the remainder allocated to core (inside) investigators.
The TNPRC Rhesus Monkey Serum Bank is maintained by the Division of Veterinary Medicine and stores serum and plasma samples collected during routine veterinary care procedures for the breeding colony. The serum bank also includes samples collected during routine monitoring of viral status for the SPF colony. The purpose of the serum bank is to provide samples for retrospective analysis of the colony and for investigator use, if required, to minimize the need to access animals from the colony for serum samples. The samples have been catalogued and entered into the Center's database.
The Breeding Colonies of the TNPRC provide nonhuman primates to core investigators and affiliate investigators for research. The breeding colonies make up the largest population of nonhuman primates at the TNPRC. All animals in the colony are tracked via a centralized, computerized animal records system. With exception of the animals housed for treatment of illness, the animals assigned to the breeding colony are housed in outdoor enclosures in social groups. Social groups are housed in large field cages that allow for the establishment of a normal social dynamics similar to that found in feral troops. The breeding colony management program is designed and administered by veterinarians, the breeding colony manager, behavioral scientist, and the breeding colony epidemiologist through the Breeding Colony Management Committee. In addition, the Tulane Resource Allocation Committee (TRAC) facilitates breeding colony management by determining appropriate allocation of animals for assignment to research protocols based on statistical analysis of colony demographics. The demand for animals from the SPF and conventional colonies has increased dramatically over the past five years. Requests from investigators reflect the need for more thoroughly characterized nonhuman primates, with regard to viral status and genetic background. Our long-range goal is to expand the breeding colonies so that all animals are SPF.
Surgery is performed in two operating suites. Surgical facilities are under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, who is assisted by the surgery supervisor and two surgery technicians. Procedures performed are those approved by the IACUC and/or administered for the medical management of non-research animals.
It is well established that the genetic background of an animal can have a substantial effect on the outcome of research procedures. Most captive populations of nonhuman primates are generally assumed to have considerable genotypic and phenotypic variability. Because this is recognized as potentially problematic for research outcomes, efforts are under way to develop pedigrees that would be useful to identify kinship relationship between research animals. The Genetics Core facility has the primary goal of performing genetic testing on young animals in the TNPRC breeding colony to determine parental relationships and to keep precise records of paternal and maternal pedigrees of all animals born into the colony. Genetic testing currently relies on analyses of well established Single Nuclear Polymorphisms (SNP) panels. Establishment of parentage of each newborn infant enables the Core to determine precise kinship relationships between any two animals within the colony. Pedigree information is made available to investigators and should prove useful in cases where genetic relationships among animals are important to research outcomes. Such information is also useful for the genetic management of the TNPRC breeding colony, whose primary goal is to maintain genetic diversity. The Core is also responsible for the establishment of a genome banking system is using dry blood samples on archival paper, extracted DNA samples, and cryopreservation of primary cell lines for each animal. Cell lines are generated from fibroblasts obtained from skin biopsies taken during regular animal health assessments.