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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.