They are young. They are highly motivated — professionally and personally. They all love animals. And they dream of helping China find innovative ways to conquer some of the world’s most devastating health threats.
They are 23 select students at the Shanghai Vocational and Technical College of Agriculture and Forestry (SHAFC), who are participating in an intensive training course to prepare them for careers in laboratory animal science.
The 10-day training in basic care and handling of laboratory animals is a partnership between SHAFC and Global Research Education & Training (GR8), a US-based consortium dedicated to promoting international standards of animal welfare wherever animal research is conducted.
“We all have a great stake in the success of this next generation,” said Jayne Mackta, GR8 president and CEO. “With the increase in outsourcing of animal studies by western companies along with the exponential expansion of China’s own pharmaceutical and biotech industry, there is a urgent need for skilled, knowledgeable workers in the field of biomedical research.”
Knowing what to do; how to do it; and why
GR8, with backing from several international pharmaceutical companies, has brought professional trainers from Animal Care Training Services (ACTS) in the U.S. to Shanghai to teach students the fundamentals of proper handling and caring for laboratory animals. Their long-term goal is to produce graduates trained to perform at a high level, who will contribute to the growth of Chinese facilities committed to advancing science and animal welfare. The training team’s long day includes lectures on theory and practice, demonstrations, hands-on laboratories with different species, and even English lessons. Techniplast donated racks of rodent caging for the course, and the Italian company Joined other vendors to introduce students to their hi-tech equipment.
Planning for the pilot program began over a year ago when Dr. Chang Yan, Deputy Director of the National Shanghai Center for Drug Safety Evaluation & Research, introduced Mrs. Mackta to Mr. Zhang Jiang of the school’s Department of Animal Science. Dr. Chang seized the opportunity because “so many research, testing and breeding facilities depend upon SHAFC for entry-level animal care staff, and GR8 wants to effect a sea change in the way students are taught to handle and care for animals in a laboratory setting.
“To support quality training,” Dr. Chang explained, “we loaned GR8 four of our technicians, all of whom are SHAFC graduates.” Dr. Chang also coordinated guest speakers from GSK/China and Covance, who covered topics such as animal welfare laws and regulations in China and around the world, animals in a GLP environment, IACUC/ethics committees, environmental enrichment, the 3 Rs, and the role of the laboratory animal veterinarian in protecting animals used in research.
Dr. Ma Jing, NCDSER Director, is so steadfast in her belief in the importance of world-class training to the growth of biomedical research in China that she also committed the services of two staff veterinarians to the program. They served as interpreters and assisted with every aspect of the course. “It is a true partnership where everyone contributes, and if successful, we will all benefit,” she said.
A small step worth taking
“Our students have a critical role to play in promoting the welfare of laboratory animals,” said Professor Xie Jinping, Vice Dean of SHAFC, “and we must invest in their preparation to enter and excel in this highly competitive and quickly expanding field.”
Despite the unqualified and pressing need, this fledging training program faces many obstacles. Skeptics question the value of investing so much time and effort in so few students in a vocational school in Shanghai. GR8’s global sponsors want to know how much the students can absorb in such a short time and if they can apply what they have learned on the job. All agree that it is not practical to expect that 4 western trainers, 2 laboratory animal veterinarians, 4 Chinese technicians and faculty from the campus will be committed to a basic certificate program for only 22 students in the future.
The challenge will be to grow the program so that significant numbers of students can be trained without compromising content, consistency or competency.
Improving animal welfare in China is an ongoing process that cannot be rushed. It will take time to overcome cultural differences. It will require perseverance to alter long-held societal attitudes towards animals. Despite all the pressures and the burning desire of the students to rush ahead and make a more perfect world for people and animals, course leaders are guided of the wise words of Confucius, who said: “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”
SHAFC, GR8 and the growing list of strong supporters of the course trust the training. All of the partners share a vision of the future that includes broad acceptance of the concept of animal welfare. They are also confident they have taken a giant step in the right direction.