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Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthCAAT

Refinement Award Webinar

Contemporary Refinement Research, its Application in Practice, and Future Directions

March 11th, 2021
Noon to 2pm EST

rat image © Cathy Schuppli

CAAT’s Beyond Classical Refinement Program hosted a webinar featuring four former winners of the CAAT Refinement Award, a prize given for outstanding research that has the potential to significantly improve the lives of laboratory animals and/or reduce the number of animals used. Becca Franks (New York University), Brianna Gaskill (Novartis), Judith de Haan (Utrecht University) and Cathy Schuppli (University of British Columbia) talked about what they have been up to since they received the CAAT Refinement Award and where their careers have taken them. They gave short presentations about their recent and ongoing research activities. The participants then engaged in a conversation on the role of contemporary refinement research and on how barriers to its implementation in practice can be overcome, and explored ideas about where the field should be heading.

Watch the full symposium on the CAAT YouTube channel

Bios of the Speakers
Further Resources


March 11, 2020

Kathrin Herrmann, DVM, PhD, Director, Beyond Classical Refinement Program

Tickling, a Technique for Inducing Positive Affect When Handling Rats (incl. Q&A)
Brianna Gaskill, PhD

Human-animal relationships in research: the case for caring (incl. Q&A)
Cathy Schuppli, DVM, PhD

Increasing transparency and quality of preclinical research: preregistration of animal research (incl. Q&A)
Judith de Haan, PhD

What does a good life look like for zebrafish? (incl. Q&A)
Becca Franks, PhD

Panel Discussion on career opportunities in the Refinement and Reduction research, on barriers to implementing these 2 Rs in practice and on the future of this field

2:00pm End

Becca Franks

Becca Franks, PhD

Becca Franks is a Research Scientist in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University, where she studies animal behavior, particularly as it relates to the wellbeing of aquatic organisms. With a doctoral degree in psychology from Columbia University and a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in animal welfare from The University of British Columbia, Franks’s work bridges diverse fields with the goal of understanding the interests, motivations, preferences, social relationships, and emotions of fish and non-fish species alike. Becca received a CAAT Award in 2014 for exploring how cognitively challenging feeding regimes affect fish welfare.

What does a good life look like for zebrafish?

In a 2020 ILAR Journal article, Makowska and Weary proposed conceptualizing laboratory animal welfare improvements along a continuum ranging from incremental-change to foundational-change. Incremental-change research programs generate essential evidence for near-term fixes that can be implemented within existing systems and include, for example, data speaking to the importance of providing laboratory animals with appropriate bedding and shelter. Foundational-change research programs aim to understand more radical reconfigurations of the role of nonhuman animals within science and include, for example, investigating the possibility of providing laboratory animals with free-range opportunities and studying individuals for their own sake rather than for external, anthropocentric priorities. While there is still much work to do throughout the laboratory animal refinement space, animal welfare has historically placed a greater emphasis on incremental goals rather than foundational goals. This gap in our understanding is particularly pronounced for fishes, which are now one of the most-studied and least-protected animal taxa in science. In this talk, I will discuss the CAAT-funded work my colleagues and I have conducted with zebrafish and the discoveries we made because we were able to house the zebrafish in “non-standard” laboratory environments. In particular, we observed a previously undescribed behavior, heightened-shoaling, which we proposed as a good candidate for future research on positive emotional behavior in fish. More animal welfare research is needed throughout the incremental-foundational space and the data presented here speak to the unique knowledge and important insights that can be gained with an outside-the-system approach.

Brianna Gaskill

Brianna N. Gaskill, PhD

Brianna received her BS from Kansas State University in 2004 and PhD in Animal Behavior and Well-being from Purdue University in 2011. She completed a postdoctoral position at Charles River after graduation, then returned to Purdue as a faculty member in 2014 and was awarded tenure in 2020. Her research has focused on developing new animal welfare assessment methodologies, rodent well-being, and elucidating the scientific impact of welfare problems in animal-based research. She recently started a new position at Novartis as their first ever 3Rs scientist where she will work closely with disease area scientists to apply 3Rs strategies to improve animal welfare and drug discovery. Her research contributions have been acknowledged by receiving awards from the NC3R’s, the Swiss Laboratory Animal Science Association, and the International Society for Applied Ethology. Brianna received a CAAT Award in 2015 for studying the influence of husbandry parameters on sleep and overall welfare in laboratory mice.

Changing human behavior to improve laboratory animal welfare: what have we learned from rat tickling?

Laboratory animal welfare is critically influenced by laboratory animal personnel through their decisions about housing, management, and enrichment of these animals. Human-animal interactions, in particular, can be particularly impactful. An example of this is the positive handling technique called rat tickling, which mimics aspects of rat rough-and-tumble play. Despite the benefits to rat welfare, 89% of laboratory animal personnel rarely or never use the technique. Commonly cited barriers to rat tickling includes a lack of time and knowledge about the technique and the intricacy of how it is done. Although the technique still requires additional time, welfare benefits can be observed in as little time investment as 45 seconds per rat. This is a 1000% reduction from previous tickling protocols. The knowledge barrier was addressed by assessing tickling training strategies. Both online and online + hands-on training can improve rat tickling self-efficacy, knowledge, and implementation. Although hands-on training may provide additional benefits, the simple creation of an online course has the potential to reach a larger population and still improve animal welfare.

Judith de Haan

Judith de Haan, PhD

Judith de Haan, PhD, is the program manager of the Open Science Program in Utrecht. She works on various topics, such as Preregistration, Open Access and Recognition & Rewards to improve Open Science. Her background is in biomedical sciences as she did her PhD at the Experimental Cardiology department at the UMC in Utrecht. During her PhD she did animal research and encountered issues such as low quality publications on animal experiments. Preregistration can solve many of the issues that are now present in animal research, therefore she joined the team to work on improvement of animal research. Judith de Haan is a member of Prof. Steven Chamuleau’s team who received a CAAT Award in 2019 for promoting transparency in preclinical research through the establishment of a preregistration platform for animal studies.

Increasing transparency and quality of preclinical research: preregistration of animal research

Since 2018, the registration platform of is online. With this platform, researchers can preregister their animal studies, describing the experiments they are going to perform and the animal characteristics. Preregistration helps to increase quality of the experiments by letting researchers carefully plan their experiments before performing them, and create transparency about all possible outcomes, even negative or neutral, that are mentioned in the protocol. Publication bias can thereby be tracked. Furthermore, the platform, serves as a database for other researchers who want to make sure certain experiments have not been performed yet, reducing unnecessary repetition of animal experiments, and learn from each other’s experimental setup. Although many researchers support our main goal, the number of published protocols lags behind. Our current goal is to increase publicity around by updating the website and promoting the platform on conferences and at institutes. To reduce workload for the researchers, we are working on an upload system of e.g., forms of Animal Ethics Committees. Also, we are investing in giving more information to researchers about how to preregister and the possibility to publish under embargo. With the 2019 Science-Based Refinement Award from CAAT we received last year, we made an explanatory movie about preregistration that we added to our website, and can also be found here:

Cathy Schuppli

Cathy Schuppli, DVM, PhD

Cathy currently works as a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Animal Welfare Program and a Clinical Veterinarian at the University of British Columbia. She began her career as a wildlife biologist with a BSc in zoology from the University of Guelph and an MSc in Zoology from the University of Alberta. She then went on to do a PhD in animal welfare at the University of British Columbia and more recently a DVM at the University of Saskatchewan. Combined with her compassion for animals and desire to safeguard their welfare, Cathy has been drawn towards research that explores the relationship of humans with animals: in science, in agriculture and as companion animals. She has used her expertise in scientific and social science methods to improve animal welfare. She has published on attitudes of animal scientists, animal producers, and members of the public. She also has extensive experience and research on governance of animals used in research. Currently she is expanding her research into examining novel ways to improve the emotional experiences of animals involved in animal research. Cathy is committed to challenging the norms of how we care for and interact with research animals, to ensure we are always seeking and implementing welfare improvements for animals used in research. She received a CAAT Award in 2015 for her work on refining animal experiments by fostering a culture of empathy and compassion.

Human-animal relationships in research: the case for caring

The presentation will explore examples of relationships, enriched housing and training methods for research animals, as well as an educational intervention using rats; all intended to provide those responsible for their care with immediate and direct evidence of their complexity. I will argue that allowing people to witness animal sentience first-hand helps foster empathy and motivates changes in the ways these animals are cared for as well as improving welfare of those caring for animals.






Cathy Schuppli's Superstar Rats Help Foster Empathy in Animal Researchers

Watch Now (YouTube)
Dr. Catherine A Schuppli MSc, PhD, DVM
Clinical Assistant Professor, Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems and Clinical Veterinarian, Animal Care Services, The University of British Columbia

This video of 7 "superstar" rats were used in a University of British Columbia study intended to foster empathy in those caring for rats in research. The goal was to test if exposure to well socialized rats, that demonstrate complex mental and behavioural capabilities, increases empathy of those working with research animals. Belief in animal sentience and empathy are associated with increased concern for animal welfare. A key element to achieving good animal welfare in animal research is having caring people who work with animals; not only does this impact individual animals but it also fosters a culture of people motivated to implement improvements for animal welfare.