Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 5, 2012

Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine marks 50 years of caring for lab animals

“We love animals, and we love people, and that’s why we do the job we do.”

That short and simple sentiment says it all about the men and women responsible for the care of most of U-M’s laboratory animals.


More information on animal research at U-M.

They do what they do, says head U-M veterinarian Dr. Robert Dysko, because they know that responsible animal research can improve both human heath, and animal health, worldwide.

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine, the division of the Medical School that provides animal care and research expertise to more than 500 scientific teams from all over U-M.

More than 250,000 animals, from mice and rats to sheep and pigs, are in the care of the 190 veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal care technicians and support staff who make up ULAM.

Without them, U-M researchers would have a much harder time making discoveries in animals that may someday improve the health of human patients.

That’s what drove U-M to develop one of the nation’s first laboratory animal medicine programs in 1962. Dr. Bennett Cohen, considered a pioneer of the field, founded the unit and led it for 23 years.

Today, ULAM is one of the nation’s most highly regarded programs both for animal care, and for the postdoctoral training of veterinarians who specialize in laboratory animals. Dysko was once one of those young trainees himself, and the 100th trainee entered the program this summer.

Fifty years ago, animal use in research was important, but not yet seen as a field of its own. Cohen helped change that at U-M and around the country.

Over time, Dysko says, the field grew as medical research grew — and then exploded with the development of the first transgenic mice in the 1980s. Being able to study specific genetic mutations in specially bred mice helped bring about many of the medical discoveries and innovations of the past three decades.

Today, says Dysko, the drive to speed up the pace of translating laboratory bench research into human diagnostics and treatments means an increasing demand for lab animal care.

At the same time, ULAM is always working to help researchers keep the number of animals they use to a minimum. New technologies help, such as bioluminescence-based imaging techniques that enable researchers to see what is happening inside an animal without having to euthanize it.

All of U-M’s animal research activity takes place under the watch of the University Committee on the Use and Care of Animals, or UCUCA, a division of the Office of the Vice President for Research that oversees the responsible and humane care, and justified use, of animals in all areas of U-M. The UCUCA staff reports to Brian Fowlkes, executive director of animal use and care and a professor of both radiology and biomedical engineering.

Together, ULAM and UCUCA make sure U-M’s research community can continue to produce important research results, and treat animals respectfully — as partners in discovery. “We’re looking forward to the next 50 years,” Dysko says.