Sep 27 2012

50 years of caring: ULAM and U-M’s lab animals

“We love animals, and we love people, and that’s why we do the job we do.”

That short and simple sentiment says it all about the men and women responsible for the care of most of U-M’s laboratory animals.

They do what they do, says head U-M veterinarian Robert Dysko, DVM, because they know that responsible animal research can improve both human health, and animal health, worldwide.

This September marks the 50th anniversary of the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine, the division of the Medical School that provides animal care and research expertise to more than 500 scientific teams from all over U-M.

This Saturday, ULAM is holding a symposium to mark the occasion.

More than 250,000 animals, from mice and rats to sheep and pigs, are in the care of the 190 veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal care technicians and support staff who make up ULAM.

Without them, U-M researchers would have a much harder time making discoveries in animals that may someday improve the health of human patients.

That’s what drove U-M to develop one of the nation’s first laboratory animal medicine programs in 1962. Bennett Cohen, DVM, considered a pioneer of the field, founded the unit and led it for 23 years.

Today, ULAM is one of the nation’s most highly regarded programs both for animal care, and for the postdoctoral training of veterinarians who specialize in laboratory animals.

Dysko was once one of those young trainees himself, and the 100th trainee entered the program this summer. Also this summer, Dysko took the reins of the unit, succeeding Howard Rush, DVM, M.S., who returned to his faculty post in 2011 after 10 years as director. Rush had succeeded Dan Ringler, DVM, who directed the unit from 1985 to 2000 after Cohen stepped down.

Fifty years ago, animal use in research was important, but not yet seen as a field of its own. Cohen helped change that at U-M and around the country. He co-founded the field’s first professional society, the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science, and the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.

He also chaired the National Academy of Science committee that wrote the first edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and helped found the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, which performs accreditation checks of animal research facilities worldwide.

Over time, Dysko says, the field grew as medical research grew – and then exploded with the development of the first transgenic mice in the 1980s. Being able to study specific genetic mutations in specially bred mice helped bring about many of the medical discoveries and innovations of the past three decades. U-M has even helped develop many of these transgenic mouse strains in the Transgenic Animal Model Core, one of the biomedical research core facilities that works closely with ULAM.

Courtesy T. Saunders, Transgenic Animal Model Core

Today, says Dysko, the drive to speed up the pace of translating laboratory bench research into human diagnostics and treatments means an increasing demand for lab animal care.

At the same time, ULAM is always working to help researchers keep the number of animals they use to a minimum. New technologies help, such as bioluminescence-based imaging techniques that enable researchers to see what is happening inside an animal without having to euthanize it. The University even has small CT scanners, MRI machines and PET scanners just for animals.

By balancing the need for medical research with a respectful, caring attitude toward animals, ULAM’s team helps researchers make new discoveries every day.

Those discoveries can also help animals: A “one health” concept that ties human and animal medicine together, especially in the area of infectious diseases, is gaining steam worldwide.

All of U-M’s animal research activity takes place under the watch of the University Committee on the Use and Care of Animals, or UCUCA, a division of the Vice President for Research’s office that oversees the responsible and humane care, and justified use, of animals in all areas of U-M. The UCUCA staff reports to Brian Fowlkes, Ph.D., U-M’s Executive Director of Animal Use and Care and a professor of both radiology and biomedical engineering.

Together, ULAM and UCUCA make sure U-M’s research community can continue to produce important research results, and treat animals respectfully — as partners in discovery. “We’re looking forward to the next 50 years,” says Dysko.

Learn more about animal research at U-M at

To make a donation to ULAM in honor of its 50th anniversary, and support its training program, visit

2 Responses to “50 years of caring: ULAM and U-M’s lab animals”

  1. Jessica A. FunNell says:

    Congratulations, ULAM, for all of your years of service, and thank you for your contributions towards the advancement of science and medicine.

  2. Jacquie Calnan says:

    Sincere best wishes to the people of ULAM as they mark this milestone, along with my heartfelt appreciation for the great care they give to research animals!

    Drs. Cohen, Ringler, Rush and Dysko have made so many valuable contibutions to the laboratory animal medicine community over the course of their careers, serving in leadership positions at AALAS and other professional organizations and sharing their knowledge with so many others around the world.

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