1. Interview with Dr. Birgit Ledermann
Birgit Ledermann, AAALAC International is a private non-profit organisation that promotes the highest welfare standards for laboratory animals used in research and science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programmes. What significance does AAALAC accreditation have today for organisations and companies such as Novartis?
Birgit Ledermann: All the research sites belonging to the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) that keep animals have received independent, voluntary, international gold standard accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC International). This underscores our commitment to the highest standards in responsible research using animals.
How do AAALAC’s standards compare internationally, for instance with those in Europe, Switzerland or Asia? Are they sufficiently ambitious?
The guidelines for the care and use of laboratory animals (ILAR Guide, National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences 2011, 8th edition) serve as the fundamental standard for assessing and accrediting programmes on the care and use of animals. The standards for accreditable institutions outside the USA are defined in accordance with the legislation in the relevant country. An AAALAC accreditation standards committee is currently revising these standards to take account of the latest developments in the field of animal welfare, for example improvements in handling and caring for animals.
What assessment programmes does AAALAC offer to companies, universities, hospitals and other institutions? Which offerings are particularly important?
The assessment we offer relates to the overall institutional animal care and use programme, including supervision and ethical reviews, staff training and expertise, health and safety at work, veterinary care, the animals’ environment and management, and the operational facilities. The requirements for accreditation are the same in all countries. The only difference is that, if stricter legal standards apply in a particular place, it must be ensured that these standards are complied with. Our most important “offering” is to have these assessments conducted by independent international experts.
You have won the 2023 AAALAC International Outstanding Delegate Service Award. Congratulations! What is your role at AAALAC and how does AAALAC operate in its committees?
Yes, thanks for the congratulations. I’m very honoured to have received this award in 2023. With regard to my role at AAALAC, I’m a member organisation delegate in my capacity as Interpharma representative. I’ve also had a seat on the AAALAC Board of Directors since 2020. The Board controls and manages the organisation. In my role as a Board member, I head up the Governance and Trusteeship Committee. This committee, like some of the others such as the Audit and Finance Committee, controls and supports the Board of Directors in fulfilling its role of managing AAALAC.
AAALAC’s work began in 1965. What has it accomplished?
In the years after it was founded, AAALAC accredited hundreds of institutions across the United States, raising the benchmark for laboratory animal care to new heights. The first establishment outside the USA was accredited in Canada in 1981, followed by the first European establishment in 1986. In 1996, AAALAC introduced a new strategy plan and became an international organisation. Today, in 2023, over 1,080 institutions in 51 countries worldwide are accredited.
«Through its international accreditation, AAALAC has harmonised animal welfare worldwide and improved it in countries with less stringent requirements.»Birgit Ledermann
What specifically has AAALAC contributed with regard to animal welfare? What has been improved?
Through its international accreditation, AAALAC has helped to raise global standards for the welfare of animals in a scientific environment and harmonise animal welfare, as well as improving animal welfare in countries with less stringent legal animal welfare requirements.
What can AAALAC still do or improve? Where is action still needed?
AAALAC is currently implementing a new strategy plan. Alongside efforts to more clearly align AAALAC as an international organisation, improving the accreditation standards forms part of this plan.
2. Profile of Dr. Birgit Ledermann
Birgit Ledermann is co-chair of the Interpharma Animal Welfare Working Group Novartis Global Animal Welfare and Compliance 3Rs Leader at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR)
Birgit Ledermann has worked in biomedical research at universities and in industry for 25 years. She trained as a technical chemical assistant, obtained a degree in biology and molecular genetics at the University of Bielefeld, and a doctorate in cell biology at the University of Basel. She gained her post-doctoral lecturing qualification in laboratory animal science at the Universities of Zurich and Basel, and is currently a visiting lecturer at the University of Basel. She previously worked at Sandoz/Novartis Pharma as a laboratory director in the field of transgenic animals, and at the Institute for Laboratory Animal Science at the University of Zurich. Since 2013, she has been a member of the Swiss Animal Welfare Officer Network and acts as president of the Swiss Laboratory Animal Science Association (SGV) on the Board of FELASA (Federation of European Laboratory Animal Science Associations). She also represents Novartis in the EPAA (European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing) and the EFPIA (European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations), and is the Interpharma representative on the Board of AAALAC (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care) International.
3. About the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International
What is AAALAC International?
The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International is a private, non-profit association that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programmes. More than 1,080 companies, universities, hospitals, government agencies and other research institutions in 51 countries and regions have earned AAALAC accreditation, demonstrating their commitment to responsible animal care and use. These organisations volunteer to participate in AAALAC’s programme, in addition to complying with all applicable local and national laws that regulate animal research.
What do institutions have to do to obtain AAALAC accreditation?
AAALAC sets high standards for animal welfare and the well-being of laboratory animals. To obtain accreditation, institutions have to fulfil a range of criteria. These include adherence to national and international animal welfare legislation, providing suitable accommodation and care for the animals, conducting regular health checks and implementing programmes to alleviate pain and manage stress. Institutions also have to produce a comprehensive programme for training staff in animal welfare and correct handling. AAALAC conducts regular visits to ensure that these standards are adhered to.
How does AAALAC operate on site?
To ensure that research with animals and animal care are monitored and conducted in accordance with tried and tested procedures, AAALAC has more than 360 ad hoc consultants who accompany committee members during on-site visits and make recommendations. These consultants – some of whom work for Interpharma member companies – can offer expertise that extends beyond conventional laboratory animal species and can in some cases provide additional expertise in fields such as applied neuroscience, behavioural science, toxicology, pharmacology and physiology.
AAALAC International improves the welfare of animals in science and education through the accreditation of organisations meeting high standards of humane and responsible animal care and use.
The programme began in 1965, when leading veterinarians and researchers founded the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) as a private, non-profit organisation. In the years that followed, AAALAC accredited hundreds of institutions across the United States, raising the benchmark for laboratory animal care to new heights.
«Thanks to the commitment of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), the responsible treatment of animals in research has reached new heights internationally.»Dr. Joachim Coenen, DVM, DABT
Senior Expert Animal Science and Welfare
SQ-Corporate Animal Affairs