Animal Welfare

Illustration of mice embryos for animal welfare

The IMPC aims to systematically discover and ascribe biological function for every gene by generating a knockout mouse line for each protein-coding gene and identifying phenotypic changes between the knockout and control animals. Essential to this effort is to establish collaborative networks that work together to standardise protocols and data analysis.

The IMPC Consortium collates data from its international member institutes, which collect phenotyping data guided by their own ethical review panels, licenses, and accrediting bodies that are in line with national and/or geo-political constructs. We have captured this data via an ethical and funding survey from each contributing institute.

Housing and Husbandry

To capture housing and husbandry information, the international community came together and based on the requirements of the ARRIVE guidelines, the Gold Standard publication Checklist reporting Guidelines and the Genetically Altered (GA) Passport, compiled a series of questions  used in the construction of a housing and husbandry survey.

The phenotyping pipelines have been designed to ensure that there are no welfare related issues for a normal mouse, however incidental welfare issues may arise. These will be driven by both the environment and the genetic background of the mice, and commonly include runting, malocclusion and hydrocephalus. Animals presenting with these incidental welfare issues will be assessed on a case by case basis to determine if the issue can be managed through remedial care, such as wet mash on the cage floor for runting or clipping teeth in the case of malocclusions, or whether our ethical obligation to the animals and the scientific endpoints are better served by euthanising the affected animal and providing a replacement.

In addition to these incidental welfare concerns, a welfare issue could occur with genetically altered mice. Two standard complementary approaches are used within the community to identify and manage the potential systematic welfare issues that could arise.

During the generation of the first homozygous progeny, a series of basic dysmorphology assessments are carried out to identify any welfare concerns.

If significant welfare concerns are raised then the breeding strategy is modified to avoid the generation of homozygous mice and heterozygous mice are phenotyped instead.

In addition to this early assessment, ongoing monitoring is carried out throughout the lifetime of the colony. Should the animals present a welfare concern, either an intervention is made in the form of the Alternate Mouse Pipeline or, when applicable, remedial action is taken within husbandry (e.g. long water spouts or food on cage base) or within experimental procedures (e.g. an alternate anesthetic is used or tests are dropped). The Alternate Mouse Pipeline is an adapted phenotyping pipeline with age and protocols altered to manage the welfare of the line. The community is currently in the process of defining the Alternate Mouse Pipeline within IMPReSS, which will allow the data to be captured and disseminated in the future.

These two complementary approaches allow us to maximise the value of information extracted from the lines while minimising welfare issues. If the mice or cryopreserved sperm are requested by the community, the welfare concerns are documented in a report (e.g. to the Genetically Altered (GA) passport) when ordered from the mouse repositories.

Sample Size

As a high throughput project, the sample size is relatively low with a target number of knockout animals being processed of 14 (7 per sex). This target was agreed upon after a community-wide debate involving statisticians, biologists and project managers to find a number that would consume the fewest possible resources while still achieving the goal of detecting phenotype abnormalities in a strain. At times, practical factors such as viability issues or difficulty administering a test might limit the number of animals it is possible to test. As such, each time data are shown, the number of animals phenotyped per sex per genotype is listed with the graphical visualisation of the data.

In a high throughput environment, replication of individual lines is not cost effective. Instead, multiple IMPC centres are generating and characterising the same six reference knockout lines that will present a wide range of phenotypes based on previously published research. The characterisation is ongoing.

For our full list of ARRIVE Guidelines, please click here

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