Welcome to the Duke Animal Care and Use Program

Mission Statement: Duke University strongly affirms the essential role that research and education involving live animals has in the advancement of biological and medical knowledge. Further, Duke University acknowledges that animals used in biomedical research and education should receive the best possible care and be treated with respect. 

Duke University is fully accredited by the Association for the Assessment of Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International (AAALAC), which requires the adherence to the highest standards of animal care and use by accredited institutions. The accreditation, which is entirely voluntary, has been continuous since 1975. In addition to the AAALAC accreditation, Duke University is registered as a research facility with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act and all amendments. Registration covers all facilities where regulated species are used. All animal facilities are inspected by the USDA to ensure that all activities involving research animals are in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Duke also holds a Category I Assurance with the Public Health Service (through the NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare). These three relationships confirm the integrity of the program structure, function, and foundation.

Animals In Research

Without the use of animals in research, the majority of medical advances would not have occurred. The list of advances ranges from vaccines for rabies and polio to the development of prescription and non-prescription drugs and a variety of surgical therapies, including organ transplantation. Among others, treatment for such devastating conditions as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and epilepsy were made possible by the use of research animals. While there are important alternatives to the use of animals in research being pursued at Duke – such as computer modeling or cell structure systems – none of them can fully stimulate the complexity of the living organism. Even the most sophisticated technology cannot mimic the complicated interactions among cells, tissues and organs that occur in humans and animals. The results obtained from experiments using animals provide information critical to designing human trials that must be conducted before legal approval can be granted for new devices, drugs or procedures. Scientists can gauge the effects of a new drug or procedure in a whole biological system before its use in humans. This is crucial for scientific as well as ethical reasons. Since many studies require that researchers know the genetic history and specific traits of the animals, most animals used in research are specially bred for that purpose. 

Duke University follows the highest standards of animal care and treatment for both humane and scientific reasons. The scientific community advocates the highest quality of care of research animals for two main reasons. 

First, those animals that are helping science unlock the mysteries of disease deserve respect and the best possible care. Secondly, a well-cared-for animal provides more reliable result.

Animal Use at Duke: An Overview

When live animals are used in research or biological testing, there must be a reasonable expectation that such utilization will contribute to the enhancement of human or animal health, the advancement of knowledge, or the good of society. The relative value of the study is a particularly important consideration in potentially painful experiments where there is an ethical imperative that the benefits of the research clearly outweigh any pain, discomfort, and distress that might be experienced by the animals. 

Continuing Reading
  • It is recognized that in many research protocols there is simply no alternative to the use of live animals. Despite this social imperative for animal experimentation, all investigators have an ethical obligation to explore ways in which animals can be partially or totally replaced by other biological or mathematical/computer systems. When a research question can be pursued using reasonably available non-animal or in vitro models and still result in sound scientific conclusions, the investigator should choose these alternatives.


  • Selection of an appropriate animal model is an important consideration, particularly at a time when alternative models for animal research are being emphasized. It is the investigator’s responsibility, therefore, to select the optimal species for a particular project. In addition, the number of animals utilized in a protocol should be minimized consistent with sound scientific and statistical standards. It is also the investigator’s responsibility to consider the source of the animal and ensure that all animals used for experimental purposes are lawfully acquired.


  • When animals are used in a research project the investigator has an ethical obligation to seek the least painful techniques feasible that will allow the protocol objective (s) to be pursued adequately. If a procedure has associated pain, discomfort, or distress, it is imperative that the investigator estimate the probable occurrence, magnitude, and duration of the pain, discomfort, or distress in order to adequately plan for the treatment of pain.


  • In potentially painful procedures the investigator must take all necessary steps to assess and monitor pain as well as discomfort and distress. In assessing pain the investigator should use behavioral signs based on the normal behavior pattern of the species under study. In some circumstances , physiological parameters may be used (e.g., plasma cortisol, catecholamines, white blood cell counts, and cardiovascular parameters).


  • If a procedure will cause more than momentary slight pain or distress to the animal, the pain must be minimized both in intensity and duration through the administration of appropriate anesthetics, analgesics, and tranquilizers consistent with acceptable standards of veterinary medicine. It should be emphasized that the requirement for the alleviation/reduction of pain applies not only at the time the procedure is being conducted but also following the procedure until such time when the pain is either alleviated or reduced to an acceptable tolerance level.


  • In no case should potentially painful experiments be conducted on an awake animal while under the influence of a paralytic or curarizing drug without the concomitant use of an appropriate anesthetic.


  • Research in which painful stimuli are used should be so designed as to provide a means of escape from that pain by the animal.


  • It is recognized that in certain research protocols the administration of appropriate anesthetics and/or analgesics will compromise the scientific validity of the experiment. Such experiments must be justifiable in terms of scientific design and value, and the deletion of these drugs should be based on referenceable scientific fact or experimental data and not intuition. In addition, pain, discomfort, and distress levels should be carefully monitored. There is a limitation on the pain to which an experimental animal may be exposed. Investigators should choose the earliest possible endpoint in order to minimize pain and discomfort. An animal that is observed to be in a state of severe pain that cannot be alleviated or reduced to an acceptable tolerance level should be immediately euthanized.


  • No animal should be subjected to multiple survival surgeries, except when they are interrelated and essential to the primary research objective.


  • Physical restraint procedures should be used on awake animals only after alternative procedures have been considered and found to be inadequate. When restraint is utilized the animal should be trained or conditioned to the restraining device, using positive reinforcement, prior to the beginning of the experiment. The restraining device should provide the minimum restraint consistent with the maximum security and comfort of the animal. In addition, the restraining device should provide the animal with the greatest possible opportunity to assume its normal postural adjustments. Awake animals should not be subjected to prolonged physical restraint.


  • It is the responsibility of the investigator to ensure that adequate post-surgical/procedural care is provided to all animals This care must meet acceptable standards in veterinary medicine and be provided as long as necessary, including during non-duty hours.


  • Euthanasia is the act of inducing painless death. The proposed method of euthanasia must be consistent with recommendations of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Panel on Euthanasia. If an animal will not be subjected to euthanasia at the completion of a research protocol, it is the responsibility of the investigator to ensure that the final disposition of the animal is both humane and acceptable.


  • Procedures involving the use of animals should be performed by or under the immediate supervision of an individual with the appropriate qualifications and experience relative to the procedures to be carried out on live animals.



Internal Oversight of Duke’s Animals & Facilities by the Committee: Any protocols – whether research or educational – that entail the use of live vertebrate animals must be reviewed and approved by the Duke University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (DU IACUC). The committee is composed of individuals from Duke faculty involved in research, board-certified and specialty trained veterinarians, legal counsel, and community members outside of Duke University. This committee oversees all aspects of Duke University’s animal care and use program, including the Duke Primate Center in Durham and the Duke Marine Biology Laboratory at Beaufort, N.C. 

Internal Oversight of Duke’s Animals & Facilities by the Compliance Liaisons: Any protocol approved by the DU IACUC is subject to review of the Compliance Liaisons. These individuals are charged with watching animal use activities and comparing what has been approved by the Committee, with what is actually occurring at the laboratory bench. Any problem areas are presented to the Principle Investigator, and if required, assists the PI with submitting the required formwork to reconnect the laboratory activities with the approval documents. 

External Oversight of Duke’s Animals & Facilities: In addition to its AAALAC accreditation and registration with the USDA, Duke University maintains an animal welfare assurance statement on file with the Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare, which is required by Public Health Service Policy for any institution that receives federal funding for animal research. 

Care of Animals at Duke University: The Division of Laboratory Animal Resources (DLAR) is responsible for the day-to-day care and housing of all live animals involved in education and biomedical research projects. DLAR provides the care polices, and guidelines required to assure compassionate, progressive animal care and use while insuring compliance with federal law and NIH policy.