A cancer researcher has paid $25,000 for a custom-bred mouse for his work.
Another group is having guinea pigs brought in from Germany because the local ones have characteristics that compromise specific research.
These are the specialist animal services provided every day by UWA staff at the Biomedical Research Facility at Shenton Park.
They also care for and prepare for research about 10,000 (non-specific) mice, 2,000 rats, up to 1,000 guinea pigs, a couple of hundred rabbits, up to 800 sheep at a time, wallabies, quokkas, ducks, pheasants, emus, pigeons, ferrets, pigs, goats and alpaca.
"There are millions of dollars tied up in animal acquisition, breeding, housing, quality control and care behind the research at UWA," said Animal Care Services Manager, Mal Lawson. "But very few people ever hear about us."
Dr Lawson said remarkable progress had been made over the past few years in the care of animals but using them for research was still an emotional issue for many people. So it was understandable that, despite excellent facilities and systems, little was heard about that aspect of research.
"For example, a recent issue of UWAnews featured seven researchers and their groups who use our facilities and expertise," he said.
The award-winning Biomedical Research Facility was opened nearly four years ago, and safety and wellbeing of both staff and animals is constantly under review.
"We provide the best animals for research and the best conditions for those animals," Dr Lawson said. "For example, our rabbit behavioural enrichment program means we constantly have rabbit playtime sessions going on. We are trying different nesting and bedding materials for our mice to try to recreate real life conditions. And although our animals can't be free-ranging outside (because we have to supervise them closely), we are always evaluating and developing new and different systems, such as the best flooring for the comfort and welfare of our sheep.
"We work with industry partners to come up with the best designs for both the animals and the staff."
Other universities make use of the UWA facilities, which helps to pay for the maintenance of the animals. "An enormous amount of money and effort goes into this facility," Dr Lawson said.
About 40 people work at the facility and hundreds of researchers are in and out every week.
"They all have different requirements. For example, we are trying to source some miniature pigs for dental work. And Animal Biology wants some quail for work on reproduction. But quail are a consumer item now and bred for the table, so it's difficult finding the right birds."
Animal Care Services has a resident veterinarian and they use the services of Murdoch University Veterinary School for specialist skills.
Dr Lawson and facilities manager Simone Chapple are setting up staff training for their mostly female, mostly school-leaver junior staff.
"We are starting a certificate course for animal technicians," Ms Chapple said. "TAFE doesn't run this any more. But we would like to help our staff to improve their skills and their chances of employment elsewhere."
They plan to take 20 students into the first course next year and eventually to run the animal technician course for other universities.
Published in UWA News, 6 September 2010