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Real World Challenges Requiring a Single-Use Solution

A conversation with Dana E. Weir, Assistant Director at the Office of Animal Resources at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

NOTE - following is the transcription of a conversation that took place between Allentown and Dana Weir, Assistant Director at the Office of Animal Resources at the University of Missouri-Columbia, on the topic of single-use caging. The comments expressed by Ms. Weir constitute her opinions only, and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Allentown, LLC. It is presented by Allentown as an educational resource for members of the Laboratory Animal Science industry.

DANA E. WEIR
Thanks for having me!

DANA
Sure. I've been in the industry for 20 years. I started out as an animal caretaker in the pharmaceutical industry, and spent 10 years there honing my skills and learning more about the research, about microsurgeries, managing people, etc. I jumped over to a CRO after that, and learned quite a bit about study design and requirements in that industry. Following that, about 10 years ago, I came back to my alma mater, the University of Missouri, and I've been here ever since, managing all of our facilities and our animal care staff.

Mizzou is a land grant university. Currently we have about 150,000 square feet of animal housing, and we're looking to add about 50 to 60,000 more in the next 12 months. So we are rocking and rolling over here at Mizzou. Thank goodness.

We're predominantly rodent-research based, but do have quite a few other species that range from dogs, cats, and pigs, and pretty much everything in between. Our rodent research consists of oncology, cardiovascular, diabetes, the metabolic disorders that contribute to these conditions, muscular dystrophy, and a fair amount of infectious disease research.

The University of Missouri-Columbia
The University of Missouri-Columbia

DANA
About four years ago, we began evaluating one of the largest facilities at our medical school on campus. It was our oldest, built in the 50's, and yet it hadn't been renovated since the '80s. We were having some biosecurity issues - some disease outbreaks that we couldn't quite pinpoint - and we were also having some real problems with sanitizing the environment. Many surfaces within the animal rooms weren't sanitizable any longer.

At first, to try and address these issues, we tried giving the facility a facelift. We thought we could paint, put down some new flooring surfaces, that kind of thing, but ultimately decided we would get more bang for our buck if we completely gutted and renovated the facility and make it a bit more state-of-the-art.

But then, of course, that decision presented us with the challenge of what to do with our current colonies while the renovation was underway? How are we going to house them?

So we started looking at options. We didn't really have the capacity to rehouse them in our existing by vivariums while also keeping them at the same levels of biosecurity. So we started looking seriously at some other options on the market, such as modular units. Turns out, our director had experience with such units and understood that they could be customized to mimic the conditions, and the environmental parameter controls, that we had in our vivarium. So we located a warehouse in an industrial park about three miles from campus, and leased two modular units in which we could house the majority of our colonies from the medical school.

Modular units where the IVCs and animals were housed
Modular units where the IVCs and animals were housed

DANA
We did explore quite a few options. We explored looking at other facilities on campus, but the necessary space wasn't available; plus our biosecurity requirements wouldn't allow us to simply relocate racks and animals just anywhere. We also evaluated the warehouse space to see if we could actually install cage wash equipment there, but ultimately this tuned out to not be a viable option due to the extreme expense. So then we evaluated transporting cages back and forth to campus to another cage wash location, but found that this really wasn't a good use of our resources.

DANA
Correct, but it wasn't top of mind for us initially. About a year earlier, before any discussions of the renovation, we had investigated the Allentown NexGen caging system as a means to increase our footprint. We were running out of space. We had been using our126-cage racks, but then decided to invest in the NexGens so that we could go with 160-cage racks. It really increased our footprint.

Later, before the renovation had begun, we learned that our NexGen racks could accommodate a single-use cage. With this discovery, the issues of how and where to wash our caging, and how to transport them back and forth between the washer and the modular units, pretty much went away. It was a great and welcome surprise to us, actually.

DANA
We did. We explored other manufacturers that can supply single-use caging, but that would have required us to purchase more racks, and more caging that we might not be able to use after the renovation. And it just worked really easily into our plan that the racks we purchased prior to the renovation were the same racks we were going to go back to using after the renovation.

DANA
We definitely had to start from day one, figuring out how many cages we needed and how to go about acquisitioning and storing them. During this renovation, we were running about 2,400 cages on any single day. So we ended up extrapolating out that number for the planned two year period of the renovation, and putting in a standing order. And we were lucky enough to have all of this warehouse space adjacent to the modular units where we could get shipments in and be able to store them right next to the animal housing. So that was very convenient for my care staff in terms of bringing in the supplies, assembling them under a transfer station, and putting them right to use.

NexGen IVCs and Phantom2 ATS inside the modular units
NexGen IVCs and Phantom2 ATS inside the modular units

We did have a few racks where we had to put into other buildings, primarily they were BSL-2 dedicated racks that we wanted to bring over from our medical school and still continue that research. The good news is that we were able to use the EasyCage in that application as well. So that was really great, too, because then it didn't add on a lot of workload to an already functioning and very busy facility that was just really doing a favor for the medical school.

Some of the challenges we anticipated were related to transporting equipment between different locations. For example, a few of the racks did need to be placed in other buildings, so moving supplies to those sites was something that needed to happen. But it was easily accomplished, as we transfer animals and supplies between buildings on campus quite a bit. Transferring the racks themselves, that was more challenging. They are pretty tall in order to accommodate the 160 cages. So we needed to use a U-Haul to transfer them from old facility to the warehouse space.

DANA
Sure, but my care staff is used to manipulating all types of cages so they caught on incredibly quick. Our challenge came with educating our research community on using this different type of caging. There is a specific way of assembling it and reassembling it after you've manipulated the mice. So we really had to hit that hard when they were coming out to our temporary locations so that we didn't have any complications. A big kudos to Mark Wohlfeil our sales rep, as he provided all kinds of training, both to me personally and my care staff. One of the neat things he did was to provide signage for us to hang on our transfer stations as reminders of how to put the cage together correctly.

But while some of it was indeed challenging, it engaged the research staff to be very invested in our mission and to make sure we were providing excellent animal care and safe housing environments for our animals. And that has carried through into the new vivarium, where they're very engaged in our caging systems, and in the renovation itself, and the transition back to the reusable caging.

DANA
We didn't have any problems with biosecurity, and we both operated the warehouse as a barrier and used the caging in BSL-2 areas. We had no problems. As I mentioned earlier, we did have some biosecurity and disease outbreaks in the old facility, and we were really worried about this when we moved out to the warehouse. So we did lots of testing, and actually found that the biosecurity at the end of the renovation was better than before. I think part of that was due to the security of the cages themselves, but also due to the decreased investigative traffic at the satellite facility. So I think those two things went hand in hand with each other. But we did discover that several of the diseases that we had seen, had burned themselves out. And we really tested the heck out of these animals before bringing them back to our new newly renovated building.

DANA
It's beautiful. It's sort of like showing off your new home. We had anticipated a return in January but, due to some construction delays, officially made it back just this October. We are expanding. We are growing. We are back to using the reusable caging on our NexGen racks. It's awfully nice.

One of the rooms in the renovated facility
One of the rooms in the renovated facility

DANA
Not altogether. And actually, this was kind of a "happy surprise, too." Our VA here in Columbia invested in some additional research with a sister campus down in Rolla, and what they're doing is taking animals down, exposing them to manipulation, and then bringing them back for behavioral testing. We didn't have good facilities here at Mizzou to dedicate to that. Especially once animals have left our Columbia vivarium.

So the VA was very interested in assuming ownership of the trailers, and they also really liked the EasyCages. So they purchased additional racks and they're going to be using disposable cages out there since there is still no cage wash. And it also works really well because they'll be able to use those cages to transport down to Rolla and bring back and also not have to worry about taking caging back to its original facility. And it just worked out really well.

DANA
My pleasure.