Large Animal Facility
Take a rare glimpse inside the large animal facility within CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory.
16 June 2010 | Updated 12 June 2012
The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) is a national facility and front-line defence, helping to protect Australia from the threat of exotic and emerging animal diseases.
Take a virtual tour inside AAHL's unique facility for housing large animals.
[Voice Over (VO)] CSIRO Livestock Industries’ Australian Animal Health Laboratory is a national facility and front-line defence, helping to protect Australia from the threat of exotic and emerging animal diseases.
Our staff carry out research to develop new diagnostic tests and other decision support tools for limiting disease spread, and create new vaccines and treatments to protect animals and humans from disease.
Opened in Geelong Victoria in 1985, the laboratory known as AAHL was specially designed to safely conduct infectious disease research. AAHL has three major microbiologically secure animal facilities – a small animal facility, a farm facility and a large animal facility.
The small animal and farm animal facilities allow for the study of animal diseases that are problematic in Australia, but its AAHL’s microbiologically secure large animal facility or LAF that makes AAHL unique. The LAF is one of the world's largest and most sophisticated biocontainment research facilities.
[Dr Martyn Jeggo, AAHL Director] The large animal facility is a critical component of AAHL. AAHL’s primary role is the diagnosis and response to a major emergency animal disease outbreak.
To be ale to do that effectively we need to be able to understand the disease in the animal and we need to have available to us a set of critical diagnostic reagents. The outcome of all that is that we have the best possible tests available but equally we’re able to provide to those that need to control the disease in the field the best possible advice on how the disease works, what's the best method to control it.
So at the end of the day the Large Animal Facility comes right to the cornerstone of what AAHL is about and that’s a critical capability we couldn’t do without.
[VO] Within the LAF scientists conduct research into emergency animal diseases, including infections that also threaten the human population under conditions of maximum microbiological security and safety.
Our staff members have many years experience with a wide range of animal species, including livestock and wildlife.
The LAF includes 28 rooms for animal accommodation and a separate self-contained autopsy room. Two animal rooms are equipped for research at the highest level of biocontainment – biosafety level 4. The animal rooms can be configured to provide free range accommodation, pens or furnished cages for each particular species.
The animal accommodation is also arranged to allow staff to work closely and safely with a wide variety of animal species, while minimising any impact on the animal's freedom to express their natural behaviour.
[Dr Deborah Middleton, Leader Transforming Animal Biosecurity] The Large Animal Facility, or LAF as we like to call it, is unique in the world because of our ability and the flexibility to work with any animal species.
Now this would range from the largest of our domestic livestock, including horses through to any species of wildlife and including aquatic animal organisms and also companion animals on the rare occasions that we need to work with those.
[VO] We also use the latest technology in remote monitoring, including video surveillance and body temperature sensing devices. The combination of state-of-the-art design and the application of clever technology within the LAF accounts for AAHL’s unique scientific capability.
Before entering the LAF all staff must write their names in a diary in the entry corridor. Card key acceptance is also required for staff entry to the LAF and additional security is provided by the requirement of a pin number for numerical access pad entry to each animal room.
[Dayna Johnson, Veterinarian] Here at AAHL animals are used in research only when there are no non-animal alternatives available.
[VO] All work done with animals in the LAF must receive prior approval from the AAHL Animal Ethics Committee.
This committee comprises AAHL staff, including veterinarians and animal technicians, and people external to the organisation, including a representative from an animal welfare organisation and an independent person, also known as a ‘lay member’.
[Dayna Johnson] Animal use in research is conducted in accordance with the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. The code of practice establishes animal ethics committees.
It’s the role of the animal ethics committee to determine if the use of animals is ethically justified. They then apply a set of principles known as the three R’s and they are replacement, reduction and refinement.
[VO] All animals are cared for by AAHL’s team of highly trained animal technicians.
They’re responsible for routine animal husbandry and daily monitoring of animals, as well as contributing directly to the scientific aspects of each study.
The wide range of animal species used at AAHL requires these technicians to be resourceful and innovative. They must ensure that each animal’s physical needs are met by providing appropriate housing, and a high quality diet. They’re also responsible for meeting the behavioural and psychological needs of all animals, through environmental enrichment appropriate to each species – including the companionship of other animals.
Veterinary staff are also available at all times to oversee this animal care, and to support the work of other research scientists.
When a disease agent is known to be very harmful to humans, and where there’s no vaccine or suitable antiviral drug available, scientists wear full body suits, equipped with their own air supply.
These disease agents are classified as Biosafety Level 4 agents, and include viruses such as Nipah Virus, SARS, and Hendra Virus, which can be fatal in both animals and humans.
Scientists may sometimes work with animal disease agents classified as Level 3(Z), which are agents that are usually exotic to Australia, and also cause infections in humans – such as the highly pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1.
In such cases, staff must wear Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, to ensure respiratory protection.
When exiting a room containing infected animals, staff must remove and discard their laboratory overalls. They must then take a personal shower, prior to leaving the animal facility, via a secure airlock.
The LAF is contained within the high biocontainment area of AAHL, enabling staff to work at all biosecurity levels. This area is held at a lower air pressure than the outside world, to ensure infectious agents are kept inside the laboratory.
Everything within the secure area is treated before it leaves. The air is filtered, all sewage is heat treated and solid waste is incinerated. And as part of this biocontainment procedure, all staff leaving the secure area must remove and leave behind their laboratory clothes, then shower out through a secure airlock. Then once outside the laboratory, staff must not have contact with livestock animals for seven days.
[Deborah Middleton] The Large Animal Facility will be central to research at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in the future. Bearing in mind that most emerging diseases come from wildlife, most of them lead to serious disease in people. It’s clear that the flexibility that's afforded by the Large Animal Facility, with respect to the species we can accommodate there, combined with the ability to work with the most dangerous pathogens will mean that there will be a role for this facility well into the future.
[VO] In the last 20 years, AAHL has been at the forefront of the discovery and control of several significant emerging infectious diseases, such as Equine Influenza and Hendra Virus.
The laboratory continues to be a partner in numerous research collaborations, both nationally and internationally. As a national facility, the laboratory is preparing Australia to cope with an animal disease outbreak. It’s also helping to improve the sustainability of Australian livestock farming, through better understanding of diseases.