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2005 Charles River Laboratories Excellence in Refinement Award

Georgia Mason and Bert van Zutphen

Georgia Mason

A University of Guelph professor is one of two people worldwide to receive a new award recognizing outstanding commitment to improving the care and housing of laboratory animals.

Georgia Mason, of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, received the Charles River Laboratories Excellence in Refinement Award today in Berlin, Germany. The presentation was made during the World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences. Bert van Zutphen, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, was also honoured.

"This award is exciting and flattering for me personally, but its creation is also a sign of how important the field of animal welfare science has become," Mason said.

Alan Wildeman, U of G's vice-president (research) said: "This is well-deserved recognition for Dr. Mason. She is deeply committed to improving animal welfare and to helping people better understand why it's an issue of the utmost importance. Her research challenges all of us to think about the enormous control that we have over the lives of so many animals."

The inaugural international award is sponsored by Charles River Laboratories and the John Hopkins University's Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT). Mason was recognized for research that 'provides solid scientific grounding for efforts to refine animal research studies, increases our understanding of stress biology, and offers practical insights into improving animal welfare,' according to a citation.

"I'm very interested in improving the welfare of the millions of mice and rats used in research," said Mason, who came to Guelph in 2004 as a prestigious Canada Research Chair. She added there are often political or other motives involved in animal welfare issues, "but I'm interested in assessing animals' needs in an objective way."

Mason's work on laboratory animals includes understanding their responses to stress (e.g. why mice jump up and down thousands of times a night or chew on the bars of their cages for hours) and using these measures to answer practical questions, like how often to clean rat cages and what enrichments should be provided to research monkeys. She is also focused on increasing understanding of the relationships between animal husbandry and animal welfare across a range of other species.

Mason came to U of G from the University of Oxford in England, where she was a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council David Phillips Research Fellow and an investigator in the Animal Behaviours Research Group. She has also done extensive research on the welfare of elephants and carnivores in zoos and mink on fur farms, focusing on how different species vary in their responses to captive husbandry. Her work has appeared in publications such as Nature, New Scientist and Science.

Mason is also interested in how early-life experience—particularly the quality and quantity of maternal care—modifies an animal's long-term response to challenges inherent in captivity.

Bert van Zutphen, whose career-long commitment to training scientists and students in the principles of humane science has had a lasting and profound impact on animal welfare, was selected as one of the two inaugural recipients of the Charles River Laboratories' Excellence in Refinement Award. The award was presented at the Fifth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, held August 21-25, 2005 in Berlin, Germany. Georgia Mason, a professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Guelph, Canada, also was honored (see above).

Sponsored by Charles River Laboratories, in cooperation with CAAT, this award honors an individual or individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the development, promotion, and/or implementation of refinement alternatives. The award includes $5,000 to further the recipients' scientific endeavors.

Dr. van Zutphen currently is Professor Emeritus at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, where he served as professor of laboratory animal science from 1983 until his retirement last year. He used the 3Rs (replacement, refinement, and reduction) as guiding principles to establish laboratory animal science courses for students, young scientists and veterinarians with. In 1985, the course he developed was made mandatory by law in the Netherlands. This three-week intensive program addresses the proper design of animal experiments, alternative methods, animal welfare issues, and ethical aspects of animal experimentation. The course is designed to make students take a critical attitude toward animal experiments and to help them incorporate the 3Rs into their experimental design. It serves as a model for education in lab animal science. In addition, he co-founded the Netherlands Centre for Alternatives to Animal Use, which in 2009, changed its name to the National Knowledge Centre on Alternatives (NKCA).

Dr. van Zutphen was co-founder (along with CAAT director Alan Goldberg) of the first World Congresses on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, held in Baltimore 1993, and he was the primary organizer of the Second World Congress on Alternatives, in Utrecht in 1996.

Dr. van Zutphen's many accomplishments in the field also earned him the 2005 Russell and Burch Award. He is a past winner of the Doerenkamp/Zbinden Award, the ICLAS Ben Cohen Award, and the Golden Giraffe Award as well.