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Use of Animals on Neurolab

In space, as on the ground, the use of animals as research subjects is an essential and invaluable component of biomedical research. Many of the changes brought about by spaceflight arise within the brain, bones, muscles, or other areas of the body not accessible within the bounds of accepted medical practice for the use of human subjects. Therefore, studying changes that occur in these areas often requires the use of animals.

On Neurolab a variety of species, including rats, mice, toad fish, zebra fish, crickets, and snails will be used to study the effects of the space environment on the nervous system. The Principal Investigator for each Neurolab experiment chose the species to be used because it is the most appropriate model for the function to be examined. Many of the Neurolab experiments will provide important information about the biochemical, cellular, and molecular mechanisms that underlie the phenomena to be studied in the human subjects. Other of the animal studies are focused on examining the role gravity plays in the development of the nervous system.

In addition to complying with the applicable regulations and guidelines, the Agency has created a more stringent policy that governs the care and use of research animals for all activities. In fact, NASA has been recognized as a leader among Federal institutions for protecting animal welfare. It was one of the first Federal agencies to implement formal animal care oversight in the form of an Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) - the Agency's voluntary actions in this area even precede the Animal Welfare Act. Any research sponsored by NASA that will use animals must obtain the approval of at least one, but sometimes up to three ACUC's (as will be the case for Neurolab) before it can begin.

More recently NASA, in consultation with a panel of ethicists and recognized leaders from the animal protection and regulatory communities, has developed and adopted the "NASA Principles for the Ethical Care and Use of Animals." These Principles - respect for life, societal benefit and nonmaleficence - were developed around the belief that the use of animals in research involves responsibility: not only for the stewardship of the animals but to the scientific community and society as well.

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