History of IACUCs in the U.S.

Since its establishment by USDA regulation in the mid-1980s, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) has evolved as the primary vehicle of animal welfare oversight within research institutions in the U.S. The evolution of this committee began some 30 years earlier.

In 1950, several research veterinarians in the Chicago area began meeting to discuss ways to enhance science by improving the care provided to laboratory animals. In 1952, the National Academy of Sciences established the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources (ILAR), which also began addressing animal welfare issues. By 1953, the Chicago group was publishing proceedings of its discussions and became incorporated as the Animal Care Panel (ACP).

The ACP appointed an Animal Facilities Certification Committee that developed into the independent accrediting body now known as AAALAC International. In 1963, the ACP received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a Guide for Laboratory Animal Facilities and Care, which later evolved into the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (The Guide). The Guide, now periodically updated by ILAR and published by the National Research Council (most recently in 2011), is the primary reference for laboratory animal care and use in the United States. The ACP continued to grow and in 1967 was reconstituted as the American Association for Laboratory Animal Care (AALAS), as we know it today.

The 1966 Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (now known as the Animal Welfare Act, AWA) was the first federal law mandating animal care standards in the U.S. It was passed in the wake of public outcry after Life magazine published an article, entitled “Concentration Camps for Dogs,” describing the conditions in which dealers kept animals that were to be sold to research. The 1966 law set standards for areas in which dogs and cats intended for research were housed and required facilities to maintain records on the dogs and cats they purchased. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was given responsibility for implementing the new law. Although research facilities were required to be registered, to have their suppliers licensed, and to undergo inspection through the USDA, the Act did not apply directly to the conduct of research using animals.

By the early 1970s, two options were available for institutions using warm-blooded animals in research to comply with the AWA. One way was to be accredited by a recognized professional laboratory animal accrediting body (e.g., AAALAC). The second option was for an institution to establish its own committee to carry out that assurance function. Such a committee would include a veterinarian and would take responsibility for making sure that the institution conformed to all government- mandated animal care regulations.

The AWA was revised in 1970 and 1976, and underwent a major revision in December 1985, gradually expanding the number of animal species covered (but still excluding rats, mice and birds bred specifically for use in research) and the breadth of welfare requirements. The 1985 amendments required that facilities designate an Institutional Official and establish an IACUC to conduct animal care and use program oversight and to review all proposed studies using animals.

A parallel system of oversight for the care and use of laboratory animals developed within the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS). The PHS is part of the Department of Health and Human Services and serves as the parent organization to such agencies as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1973, a new policy applying to all PHS awardee institutions was drafted. This PHS Policy required compliance with the AWA and the recommendations of the Guide.

In 1974, the Office for Protection from Research Risks (OPRR) was formed in the Office of the Director of the NIH. A third PHS Policy was prepared jointly by OPRR and what is now called the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and came into effect in January 1979. It covered all vertebrates used in research, including rats and mice, and emphasis was placed on the responsibility of awardee institutions for the quality of their animal care and use programs, including the training and conduct of their investigators and animal care personnel. This Policy gave institutions three options for obtaining NIH approvals:

• accreditation by AAALAC;

• an assurance that the institution’s own Animal Care Committee had found the institution in full compliance with the Guide; or

• provisional assurance of plans for correction, if deficiencies found by the Committee’s annual inspection were reported to OPRR.

In 1981, NIH issued the first comprehensive Policy which required written assurance of accreditation, either by an appropriate professional body, or by an institutional committee which included at least one veterinarian, before NIH funding could be awarded for research or teaching. The standards for evaluation were those set forward in the Guide with annual institutional committee inspections.

In 1985, Congress adopted legislation reauthorizing NIH programs, known as the Health Research Extension Act. This legislation included a provision making the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals part of the framework of laws governing the NIH and required henceforth that all PHS-funded research involving vertebrate animal species be conducted according to the PHS Policy. The elements of the PHS Policy largely paralleled the AWA in requiring the appointment of an Institutional Official and the establishment of an IACUC, but the composition and mandates of the IACUC differed somewhat from that specified by the AWA. Most institutions now have a single IACUC that satisfies both PHS and USDA requirements.

The Scientists Center for Animal Welfare (SCAW) provided early guidance to research institutions on IACUC organization and function, with regional workshops and later the publication of Effective Animal Care and Use Committees. ARENA IACUC Guidebook, originally published in 1992 by Applied Research Ethics National Association (ARENA) and republished in 2002 with the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), has also served as a useful resource. The IACUC Handbook, written by several laboratory animal veterinarians, is another valuable print resource. Many excellent venues also exist today for development and refinement of the IACUC and its role, including regional conferences offered by OLAW; an annual conference sponsored by Public Responsibility in Medicine & Research (PRIM&R); and national conferences on emerging issues for IACUCs sponsored by organizations such as the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research (MSMR).


—. ARENA/OLAW Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Guidebook, 2nd ed. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health/OLAW (2002).

Kulpa-Eddy, Jodie A., Sylvia Taylor and Kristine M. Adams. “USDA Perspective on Environmental Enrichment for Animals,” ILAR Journal, Vol. 46, No. 2 (2005).

Silverman, J., Mark A. Suckow, and Sreekant Murthy. The IACUC Handbook, 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press (2006).

Whitney, R.A. “Animal care and use committees: history and current policies in the United States,” In: Lab Animal Science, Vol. 37 (Special Issue), pgs.18-21 (1987).