Monitoring of Animal Research Facilities with Internet of Things (IoT) Sensors
Several industries (eg. pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetics, and food), universities and government agencies spend tens of billions of dollars each year on animal research and testing. Animal test subjects must be properly housed, fed, cleaned and cared for. Animal housing rooms or vivariums are used for this purpose. The cost of a single research mouse can be thousands of dollars. With such expenses involved in animal research, it makes sense to ensure your facility is properly equipped to monitor and care for your animals and to ensure that nothing goes awry, jeopardizing expensive research studies. Maintaining the proper environmental conditions is vital for producing reliable research results. If the environment in the animal housing room is not properly controlled it can adversely impact animal health, compromising months of costly research, ie. is poor animal health a result of the test material or poor environmental upkeep? Thus, it’s important for researchers to rule out the effects of environment when monitoring animal health. For this reason, the environmental parameters in animal housing rooms are strictly controlled and monitored.
What parameters should be monitored?
Relevant environmental parameters for animal monitoring are summarized in Table 1 below.
Controlling temperature in an animal research environment is of paramount importance. Guidelines for temperature control are found in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, 8th edition, Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, National Research Council of the National Academies.
Maintaining circadian cycles for laboratory animals is extremely important, especially during behavioral studies. A disruption of circadian rhythms can cause numerous problems that can affect animal safety and jeopardize research integrity.
Humidity is important for all animals, but can be particularly important for amphibians and tropical animals who are accustomed to a high humidity environment.
Another reason to monitor animal facilities is because micro-environments can exist within an animal housing room. Light levels can be diffused by cages as you go from the top of the room to the bottom. Temperature and humidity can vary widely depending on the type and number of animals being housed.
What about my Building Management System?
Building Management Systems (BMS) are often used to control the environment for animal research facilities. These are complex, sophisticated control systems often managed by facilities managers. While robust, they can run into unforeseen problems, like equipment failures, power issues, or unintended human intervention such as, the cleaning crew turning lights on and off. To mitigate against such unforeseen circumstances, doesn’t it make sense to have redundant sensors to ensure that optimal conditions are maintained in animal housing rooms? A simple mistake or blown circuit can put months of research at risk. It would be nice to have a second check on environmental conditions to make sure that your animal housing rooms are under control.
The Ideal Solution: Environmental Monitoring with IoT Sensors
We’ve already established there are many good reasons for monitoring environmental conditions of animal research facilities with independent systems, but what is the best approach to implementing this? You want a system that is reliable, runs continuously with minimal intervention, stores large amounts of information, alerts you to out of spec conditions and costs far less than a full blown Building Management System. The solution is to use cloud-connected Internet of Things sensors, like the Element A and Element T. Element A measures four environmental parameters - temperature, light levels, relative humidity and pressure, while Element T measures temperature of an environment or a laboratory asset, such as a refrigerator, freezer, oven, or incubator.
These sensors continuously measure and transmit the data to the Elemental Machines Cloud via a gateway. Data stored in the Cloud can be accessed on the Elemental Machines dashboard anytime or any place you have an Internet connection. Users can set up alarms to alert them of any out of spec conditions. For instance, if a refrigerator storing test medicine should get too warm or if someone leaves the door open, the system can send a text message alarm to the laboratory operations team alerting them to this out of spec condition so they can take action before any test medicine is compromised.
Likewise, if the environment is supposed to be dark at night for animal subjects you can set an alarm between the hours of 7 PM to 7 AM to be notified of any changes in the lighting conditions. For instance, if the lights are turned on by the cleaning crew or someone else during this time frame, you can get an alert about this condition.
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