The experimental animal breeding unit

A couple of years back, it was identified that the Sahlgrenska Academy breeding unit “had an enormous potential that was not used optimally”. Aiming for an internationally competitive platform, MIVAC scientist Mary Jo Wick transformed EBM into an effective unit that today definitely is competitive on a national level by, among other things, establishing formalized and uniform routines.

Changes like this do of course not occur over night. The challenges ranged from information logistics and the health of the animals (many stocks are immuno-compromised) to motivation of both staff and researchers.  And according to Mary-Jo, MIVAC as such was absolutely critical to the positive development, especially in streamlining processes. For the Core Facility and EBM leadership it is of course much easier to deal with one voice, than with well over 30 different researchers.

Apart from motivating researchers and staff to adopt strict routines, it has also been critical to create mutual understanding and a good computer-based information system. In the “Fabian” database, all strains are now registered, cages have bar codes and animals are individually marked. Thus, information can be obtained online about health status, dates of birth, litter size etc., which makes it possible to intervene with breeding problems and properly plan experiments and order animals. It also made way for fulfilling one of the more ambitious goals for the unit, namely, to provide samples to genotype each animal. The system is fully operational for frozen tissue samples, and has recently been launched for fresh blood samples. Considering the fact that EBM breeds more than 90 different strains in hundreds of cages that each generate offspring, the achievement becomes quite impressive.

Once successful, the rewards of all the hours put in by Mary-Jo and co-workers are plenty: healthy animals receiving quality care, involved and highly trained staff, efficient breeding and experiment planning, which all add up to high quality research that reflects the great potential of EBM.

But it is bigger than this: The Sahlgrenska Academy has traditionally had a focus on mucosal immunobiology, including both clinical and basic research. The SSF-funded research center MIVAC has been able to build upon this, concentrating and organizing the expertise in an interactive and stimulating environment. MIVAC’s new breeding facility at EBM harbours models for numerous diseases, forming an important platform for experimental research at the Sahlgrenska Academy. By interaction with other state-of-the-art units at EBM, particularly the recently established gnoto-biotic unit for germ-free breeding, Sahlgrenska scientists can now start to decipher the intricate cross-talk between the intestinal microflora and the immune system, as well as microbiota effects in conditions like diabetes, arthritis, metabolic diseases and cardio-vascular diseases. Thus, the possibility to become truly world-leading in experimental disease models to improve human health is definitely within reach.