THE EARLY HISTORY OF LABORATORY ANIMAL SCIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA
DEVELOPMENTS PRIOR TO THE INAUGURATION OF SAALAS
By Dr. C J Joubert
The need for providing good quality laboratory animals and good accommodation was recognised within the scientific community as far back as 1956. In that year the possibility of establishing a National Animal Centre at the CSIR in Pretoria was first proposed by Dr J J Dreyer and other scientists at the National Nutrition Research Institute. In April 1960, the Barrie Commission, which was appointed to advise on the desirability of separation of the CSIR and SABS into two distinct statutory bodies, further recommended the establishment of a National Laboratory Animal Centre at the CSIR in Pretoria. For various reasons, the matter was not pursued further until 1962, when a technical committee of the CSIR, of which I was a member, was appointed and given the task of compiling a design brief. With the assistance of an architect, sketch plans were to be prepared and the costs of the proposed animal centre were to be estimated.
In addition, I was instructed to find a suitable overseas institution, which would accept me for a one-year course of training in laboratory animal technology and management. The training was to include all aspects of laboratory animal housing, breeding and supplying of healthy animals including SPF and germ-free rodents and rabbits. On my return I was to be involved in the planning of the new centre and its future operation. This proposed National Laboratory Animal Centre was to be established in Pretoria to serve all sectors of the scientific community in the country and to act as a central bank for holding, certain defined strains of animals.
After making wide enquiries about suitable venues it was decided that I should approach the Medical Research Council's Laboratory Animal Centre (LAC), situated at Carshalton, Surrey, for my year of study. From the point of view of our local needs at the time, I could not have chosen a better venue because of the LAC's stature in the world of laboratory animal science and because of the special interest which the Director of the LAC, Drs W Lane-Petter took in our needs.
Apart from his Directorship of the LAC Dr Lane-Petter was at the time also Secretary General of the ICLA International Committee on Laboratory Animals (which today has become ICLAS - the International Council on Laboratory Animal Science). Through his agency I was able to visit more than seventy animal facilities in England and Europe during my study tour in 1963. The exceptional co-operation and kindness, which was extended to me everywhere I went, was mainly due to the personal interest of this able, kind and very humble man.
On my return to South Africa in 1964 Dr Lane-Petter urged me to establish a South African National Committee on Laboratory Animals (NCLA) My endeavours in this direction received unstinting support from Dr J Dreyer and the Director of the National Nutrition Research Institute at the CSIR, Dr F W Quass. The first meeting of this Committee took place on 22 February 1965 under the auspices of the CSIR with me serving as Chairman. Its members were:
- Dr P A Boyazoglu - Veterinary Research Institute representative
- Dr W H Craib - Vice President of the CSIR
- Dr J J Dreyer - Head of the Physiology Department of the NNRI
- Dr R Elsdon-Dew - Director, Amoebiasis Research Institute Unit
- Dr W Hamburger - Head, Laboratory Animal Testing CSIR
- Prof A Kipps - Head, Virus Research Unit, UCT
- Dr J C E Mullen - Department of Public Health
- Dr A G Oettle - Cancer Research Unit, SAIMR
- Dr F W Quass - Director, NNRI
- Mr G Oosthuizen - CSIR
- Mrs E M Foster - Minute Secretary
A wide variety of topics concerning local aspects of laboratory animal science were discussed at this meeting, including the question of initiating training for laboratory animal technicians. I was also nominated as the National Member representing South Africa on ICLA and subsequently granted funds to attend the General Assembly meeting of ICLA, which was held in Dun Loaghaire Ireland during September 1965. An International Symposium on the "Husbandry of Laboratory Animals" was held at the same venue in conjunction with the ICLA meeting and I presented a paper on the "Total Nutritive Requirements of Laboratory Animals". A formal South African association with the international community of laboratory animal scientists and technicians was thus initiated.
In 1966, with financial support of the CSIR, I carried out a national survey on the numbers of laboratory animals used annually in the Republic. It was determined that in 1965 not more than one million animals were used, of which 94 % were rats and mice. Users of laboratory animals comprised thirty-three institutions including several Universities.
Early in 1967, I was, together with several members of the NCLA invited by the Minister of Agriculture to serve on a special Committee to investigate whether or not there was a need for legislation to control the use of laboratory animals and to prepare a draft Bill in this regard. This was done, but the Bill was for a variety of reasons never introduced in Parliament. It is somewhat ironic that this matter is again topical some twenty years later, and is being investigated 'by a Committee chaired by a senior official of the Department of Agriculture, Marketing and Economics.
At the third meeting of the NCLA held on 12 March 1969 the matter of training laboratory animal technologists was again discussed. Another important decision taken at this meeting was to arrange the first South African Symposium on Laboratory Animal Science. This was to be held under the joint auspices of the CSIR and newly established South African Medical Research Council the following year.
This meeting was held from 3 to 5 June 1970 at the CSIR in Pretoria. Three important guest speakers from the United Kingdom and West Germany attended and delivered keynote papers on modern developments in laboratory animal science. These were Dr W Lane-Petter of the LAC at Carshalton, Dr Charles Coid, Director of the Laboratory Animal Unit at the Clinical Research Centre, at Harrow and Prof Dr W Heine of the Central Institute for Laboratory Animal Breeding at Hanover. Their notable contributions laid the foundation for many of the later developments in modernising laboratory animal science, which have taken place in South Africa over the last seventeen years.
During 1969 I took up a new position with the SABS and was obliged to relinquish my chairmanship of the NCLA. This was taken over by Dr C van der Merwe-Brink, President of the CSIR. I subsequently served as Secretary of the NCLA until March 1970.
The year 1969 marked the establishment of the Medical Research Council. The CSIR decided that the total responsibility for the planned National Animal Centre should be gradually passed over to the Medical Research Council. This was an obvious transition, which was in accord with the objectives and responsibilities of the Medical Research Council as specified in the Medical Research Council Act No 19 of 1969.
The newly formed Medical Research Council took a little while to establish itself administratively and for a short spell matters were somewhat quiet on the laboratory animal science front. At the request of the Medical Research Council, I attended the 1972 ICLA General Assembly Meeting held in September in Hanover as the South African National Representative.
In July 1973 the sixth meeting of the NCLA was held at the CSIR under the chairmanship of Professor J Dreyer, the then Dean of the School of Dentistry, at the University of the Witwatersrand. The meeting was very much an exploratory one and had a great influence on setting the patterns for future developments. At this meeting, a number of persons whom I considered to be members of the emerging new community of laboratory animal science enthusiasts were present.
Notable amongst these were Dr Willem de Klerk as Secretary and Drs Johnny van der Watt, John Austin, Schalk van Rensburg and Waldo Meester who introduced many new ideas and a lot of expertise into the committee's deliberations. The members felt that the future existence of the NCLA was very necessary and important and a unanimous decision on this matter was conveyed to the Medical Research Council.
In 1973 one of the most notable endeavours ever undertaken by the laboratory animal fraternity was initiated. After a long history of discouraging exercises on the training of laboratory animal technicians Dr Georginia Crewe initiated a two-year part-time course at the University of the Witwatersrand. The course was extended to animal technicians at Wits and neighbouring institutions and comprised a balanced syllabus of theoretical and practical training which was largely modelled on the British Institute of Animal Technicians' syllabus. Between 1973 and 1976 some sixteen persons completed the course, which was the forerunner of the diploma course, which was later offered by the Technikon RSA. This was really a marvellous achievement and Dr Crewe certainly deserves recognition for her pioneering input into laboratory animal technology training.
In June 1975 the eighth meeting of the NCLA was held and a decision was taken to hold a second National Symposium on laboratory animal production, care and use. This meeting was held at Tygerberg in September 1977. Apart from the production of forty-nine excellent papers by local and invited guests speakers, this meeting created the final stimulus for the foundation of the South African Association for Laboratory Animal Science. A panel discussion on this topic at the meeting was followed by an informal meeting after an evening cocktail party and a small band of enthusiasts firmly resolved to form the Association. A steering committee was immediately elected to found the organisation, which formally came into being the following October at an inaugural meeting, which was held at the CSIR in Pretoria.
In conclusion I feel that tribute should be paid to all the early members of the laboratory animal science fraternity who have given so much of their time to promote this very important association. It has proved so valuable to all of us and should continue to be so in the future.
Laboratory Animal Science in South Africa: Past, present and future
The first scientific meeting, relating to the use of laboratory animals in South Africa, was held in Pretoria during June 1970. This symposium, dealing with the production and use of primates and small animals for laboratory purposes, was arranged by the Symposium Secretariat of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on behalf of the National Committee on Laboratory Animals and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
Dr W Lane-Petter (Consultant Scientific Advisor to the Huntingdon Research Centre, UK) and Dr CR Coid (British MRC, Clinical Research Centre, Harrow, UK) attended the meeting as guest speakers.
Due to the success of the latter symposium, the National Laboratory Animal Committee of the MRC hosted a second three-day meeting during the period 21 to 23 September 1977. It was held at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Stellenbosch in Parowvallei, Cape Town. Twice as many delegates attended whilst the number of scientific papers presented also increased by two-fold. Subjects discussed varied from SPF technology to management, housing, diseases, ethics, training, unusual species, primatology, and animal models for disease. International acclaimed speakers that attended were Dr Geoffrey Bourne and Dr Nelly Golarz de Bourne (both from the Yerkes Regional Primate Center, Emory University, Atlanta, USA), Prof. Willi Heine and Dr Friedrich Deerberg (Zentralinstitut für Versuchstiere, Hannover, Germany - the latter from their Abteillung Patologie), Prof Cluff Hopla (Dept. of Zoology, University of Oklahoma, USA - ICLAS President), Maj Walter Scott (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Hertfordshire, UK) and Dr John Bleby (MRC Laboratory Animal Centere, Carshalton, UK).
An article in The Cape Argus of 23 September 1977, under the heading " Lab animal technicians may form association" mentioned that: "a steering committee to investigate the feasibility of an association of laboratory animal technicians was formed yesterday. The committee, consisting of Dr W A de Klerk, Mr ME Howard-Tripp, Dr Georgina Crewe, Miss Elizabeth Helm, Mr Chris Joubert, T Zuurmond, F Potgieter and DA Scammel - was formed after discussions about a lack of co-ordination, training and organisation".
The inaugural meeting of the South African Association for Laboratory Animal Science (SAALAS) was held during 12 and 13 October of the following year. This meeting took place at CSIR Conference Centre in Pretoria. Dr John Austin, the Chairman of the Organising Committee for this meeting, was elected the first President of SAALAS. Dr John Bleby, from the British Medical Research Council's Laboratory Animal Centre, again attended as guest speaker. Issues discussed by him included the need for a South African lab animal association, nutrition and balanced diets, selection and supply of animals, the role of the animal technician, gnotobiotic animals, breeding systems, and cost analysis and rate setting.
The by now custom, that the international guest speaker at congress also visit and lecture at different animal facilities in the country, also started after this meeting. Dr Bleby was thus not only the first guest speaker of SAALAS but also the first International Laboratory Animal Scientist to visit laboratory animal centres in Potchefstroom, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.
The objectives of SAALAS are:
- To promote the advancement of laboratory animal science for the benefit of both animals and man,
- To encourage and facilitate the exchange of scientific information in all fields of laboratory animal science,
- To foster co-operation between investigators and laboratory animal personnel for their mutual benefit,
- To actively promote education and training in laboratory animal science and technology and establish recognised standards of proficiency for laboratory animal personnel,
- To establish standards for laboratory animal facilities and for animal care,
- To establish guidelines for humane and ethical use of animals for teaching and research, and
- To co-operate with other organisations concerned with laboratory animal science, technology and animal welfare.
During the next few years Laboratory Animal Science began to prosper. No less than eight modern laboratory animal facilities were constructed and commissioned. A three-year teletuition course in Laboratory Animal Technology, initiated by SAALAS and presented through the Technikon RSA, got under way during 1981. The latter made a tremendous contribution towards the quality of laboratory animal husbandry and use in this country. During 1990 the National code for the handling and use of animals in research, education, diagnosis and testing of drugs and related substances in South Africa, came to pass.
Congresses and one-day symposiums, to which one or more internationally acclaimed guest-speakers from abroad were invited, were held on a yearly basis. Active membership increased to more than 200 paid-up members.
During 1989 a total of 31 South African laboratory animal facilities were listed. During the same year the MRC Laboratory Animal Unit started a microbiological monitoring program for laboratory animals.
At this stage most of the laboratory animal facilities in the country were either funded of subsidised by government. During the early 1990's, this "unfortunate" situation through which animal facilities received their funding, started to exercise a downward swing on laboratory animal science as a whole. The change in government policy, from a financially supportive to a more market related policy where industry were held more and more responsible for research, also brought about a change in the financial situation of the majority of animal facilities in this country. Many changes took place whilst some institutions had to adapt to the changing situation.
Laboratory animal facilities had to start earning their own funds in order to cope with normal day to day expenditures. Some facilities had to close down, resulting in many researchers and Animal Technologists leaving the field of animal research. As some of them emigrated with a resultant loss of knowledge and expertise. Maintenance of facilities and equipment fell in arrears. The decline in job opportunities also led to a decrease in the demand for qualified personnel, with a subsequent discontinuation of the diploma in Laboratory Animal Technology by the Technikon RSA. More burning issues emanated from the decline of the past few years;
- The need for proper legislation that would regulate laboratory animal use.
- Establishing standards that will be internationally accepted.
The renewed demand for and interest in laboratory animals and animal related studies currently experienced in South Africa could be perceived as the turning point towards a more secure future for Laboratory Animal Science in this country. The latter scientific grouping still is an integral part of the South African scientific community and as such our future may be more secure. We must however not fool ourselves; rough spots will still be encountered from time to time.
Fortunately we do not have to start anew. The basic structures still exists, everybody in the field of laboratory animal science should endeavour to begin where we were left before the recession. Let us start to improve those resources what we still have. This does not only include our physical facilities and animals, but also our knowledge and attitude towards laboratory animal science. Let us not wait for opportunities to show themselves, rather join forces and create them.
Facts in our favour South Africa has the necessary natural resources and infrastructure.
There are still adequate qualified and experienced Laboratory Animal Technologists and researchers left in the country, people that could take the lead and continue from where we were left at the beginning of the recession.
The changes brought about in South Africa during the latter half of the 1990's made this country more acceptable to the international community. Specific interest is shown in the medicinal value of our indigenous plants and herbs, many of which are already used for centuries by our traditional healers. According to an article in Inpharma of 28 October 1995, 80% of the world's population exclusively use plants for the treatment of illness. In a press release (29 February 2000) Dr Prins Nevhutalu, Director: Corrective Action at the National Research Foundation, stated that; "An amount of R 10 million is available during 2000/2001 to support research development in the area of indigenous knowledge. We'll provide funding to South Africa's science community, including the science councils, for research in this important field Within the context of the African Renaissance, indigenous knowledge was identified as a pillar to drive the strategic direction of African development, especially the creation of jobs in rural communities." Research and knowledge of the pharmacologically active compounds can contribute towards a tremendous development in the field of traditional medicine.
Shouldn't we as laboratory animal scientists also be part of such an investigation?