Using IoT Sensors to Monitor Preclinical Research Facilities

Each year many industries, for example, chemical, pharmaceutical, food, cosmetics, universities and government agencies spend tens of billions of dollars on animal testing and research. Animal test subjects must be properly housed, cleaned, fed, and looked after. Vivariums or animal housing rooms are utilized for this purpose. 

A single research mouse can cost thousands of dollars. With such huge expenses involved in animal research, it is beneficial to ensure your facility is properly equipped to monitor and care for your animals and to make sure that nothing goes wrong and compromises expensive research studies. Preserving the correct environmental conditions is crucial for generating reliable research results.

If the conditions in the animal housing room are not controlled properly it can adversely affect animal health and compromise months of costly research, i.e. is an animal's poor health a result of poor environmental upkeep or the test material? Therefore, when monitoring animal health it is crucial for researchers to rule out the effects of environment. The environmental parameters in animal housing rooms are strictly monitored and controlled for this reason.

Problem

  • Animal studies can take a long time
  • Animal research is expensive
  • Alarms are often sent to facilities people, not researchers
  • Building Management Systems (BMS) can fail
  • Microenvironments are tough to monitor with a BMS

Desired Solution

  • Alerting during scheduled periods (lights should be out, but are not)
  • Small sensors to monitor microenvironments
  • Monitor temperature, humidity and light
  • Monitor conditions 24/7
  • Inexpensive, scalable
  • Send messages to scientists running the studies
  • Unlimited cloud storage

Cloud-connected IoT sensors are the ideal solution.

Which Parameters Should be Monitored?

The relevant environmental parameters for animal monitoring are summarized in Table 1.

Sample Parameter Sample Target Sample Concerns
Ambient Temperature Animal housing rooms, cages, food storage Rooms or cages too hot or too cold? Refrigerated animal food or medicine at risk if temperature is too high?
Relative Humidity Animal housing rooms, cages, food storage Rooms or cages too dry or too humid? Dry animal food at risk of mold or spoilage?
Lighting Animal housing rooms Intended light cycles maintained? Or has it been altered or disturbed?

 

An in-depth view of each parameter is described below.

Light Levels

Keeping circadian cycles for laboratory animals is crucial, particularly during behavioral studies. A disruption of circadian rhythms can lead to a number of issues which can affect animal safety and jeopardize the integrity of research.

For instance where cleaning crews have turned the lights on at night when they are supposed to be off, or construction work and other changes interfering with light cycles can be avoided with very inexpensive light metering sensors to alert you to an out of spec event.

When using cyclical data such as lighting, it is crucial to be able to set up repeating periods of time when lights should be either on or off and to alarm about different conditions during different periods. For example, you would normally want to know if lights are on at night when they are supposed to be off, so you would set an alarm between the hours of 6 PM and 6 AM only.

Temperature

Controlling the temperature in an animal research environment is critical. The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, 8th edition, Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, National Research Council of the National Academies has guidelines for temperature control.

Maintenance of body temperature within normal circadian variation is necessary for animal well-being. Animals should be housed within temperature and humidity ranges appropriate for the species, to which they can adapt with minimal stress and physiologic alteration. To maintain body temperature under a given environmental temperature animals adjust physiologically (including their metabolism) and behaviorally (including their activity level and resource use).

Alterations to an animal’s behavior and metabolism could change test results in ways that cannot be accounted properly for if the temperature becomes too low. Additionally, it may not be sufficient to monitoring just one point in a large room. Due to microenvironments that often exist in animal housing rooms temperatures can vary considerably within a room.

Humidity

Humidity is essential for all animals, but can be especially important for tropical animals and amphibians that are used to an environment with high humidity.

Relative humidity should also be controlled, but not nearly as narrowly as temperature for many mammals; the acceptable range of relative humidity is considered to be 30% to 70% for most mammalian species. In mice, both abnormally high and low humidity may increase preweaning mortality (Clough 1982). In rats, low relative humidity, especially in combination with temperature extremes, may lead to ringtail.

Microenvironments

Microenvironments can exist within an animal housing room, which is another reason to monitor animal facilities. It is possible for light levels to be diffused by cages as you go from the top to the bottom of the room. Humidity and temperature can vary widely depending on the number and type of animals being housed.

Often it is not enough just to know the humidity, temperature, and light level in one area of a very large room, as supplied by Building Management Systems. Typically, it is necessary to know more about the microenvironments throughout the room. This helps to highlight animal subjects that have been exposed to environments which are less than ideal and that could adversely impact their health.

The best way to get this information is by installing small IoT sensors, such as the Element A, in the microenvironment, for example in the cage, as this allows you to monitor it for any environmental gradients throughout the animal housing room.

Building Management Systems

Building Management Systems (BMS) are typically used to control the environment for animal research facilities. These are sophisticated and complex control systems which are often managed by facilities managers. Even though they are robust, they can run into unforeseen problems, like power issues, equipment failures, or unintended human intervention, for example, the cleaning crew turning lights on and off.

To protect against such unforeseen circumstances, it is helpful to have sensors to ensure that optimal conditions are kept in animal housing rooms. A simple mistake or blown circuit can put months of research in jeopardy. It would be diligent to have a second check on environmental conditions to ensure that your animal housing rooms are under control.

A further challenge related to a BMS is access to environmental data. Normally, Building Management Systems are monitored and controlled by the facilities manager. This means that scientists who are performing high-stakes research with animal subjects may not be given access to environmental data or be alerted when environmental conditions deviate from optimal conditions for animal health.

In these instances, an independent, wireless monitoring system could be the best option for scientists to access the environmental data relevant to their studies. Scientists are likely responsible for monitoring animal housing rooms with the tools of their choice if a facility does not possess a Building Management System. A wireless IoT monitoring system could be the best choice for monitoring the environment In these cases.

An independent monitoring system, whether primary or secondary, is a valuable addition to an animal housing facility – regardless of whether a facility has a Building Management System. Advantages include automated data collection through IoT technologies, a backup system in case of issues with the Building Management System, and secure yet facilitated access to environmental data.

Scientists can still take the data into their own hands and make sure their studies are controlled properly, whether a facility has a Building Management System or not.

The Ideal Solution: Environmental Monitoring With IoT Sensors

A number of good reasons have already been established for monitoring environmental conditions of animal research facilities using 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 a lot less than a full blown Building Management System.

The answer is to employ cloud-connected Internet of Things sensors, such as the Element A and Element T. Element A measures four environmental parameters - light levels, temperature, pressure and relative humidity, while Element T measures temperature of an environment or a laboratory asset, such as a freezer, oven, refrigerator, 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 anytime or any place you have an Internet connection or on the Elemental Machines main dashboard. Users can program alarms to alert them of any conditions that are out of spec. For example, if a refrigerator storing test medicine was to become too warm or if the door is left 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 act before any test medicine is compromised.

In the same way, if the environment is meant to be dark at night for animal subjects you can set an alert between the hours of 7 PM to 7 AM to be informed of any alterations in the lighting conditions. For example, you can get an alert about this condition if the lights are switched on by someone during this time frame.

Conclusion

An IoT-based environmental monitoring system can be an extremely useful asset to many animal housing facilities, regardless of whether they have Building Management Systems, an independent system can act as a backup in the event of human errors, equipment failures, or power failures. Furthermore, an independent IoT-based system can provide secure access to animal housing room environmental data.

Lastly, compared to a BMS, independent IoT monitoring systems can give greater insight into environmental gradients within a room. With so many benefits, it makes sense to employ an independent or backup monitoring system for your animal testing facilities. Small, scalable, wireless IoT sensors are the ideal system for continuously monitoring and alerting in animal research facilities.

References

  1. Fredericks, Jim, (2013, March 29)  Monitoring the Indoor Environmental Quality of Animal Facilities Retrieved from www.laboratoryequipment.com
  2. Steven M. Niemi, Gail F. Davies  ILAR Journal, Volume 57, Issue 2, 1 December 2016, Pages 246–253, https://doi.org/10.1093/ilar/ilw033

About Elemental Machines

Elemental Machines is helping scientists improve experimental reproducibility and accelerate scientific discovery.

From early research and discovery to manufacturing, everyone in biology and chemistry-based industries knows that the physical environment can affect the entire product lifecycle. What they don’t know is exactly how, or the cumulative cost of not knowing -- higher R&D expenses, slower time to market for innovative products and life-saving therapies, yield loss during manufacturing, and more.

With a deep understanding of these issues, Elemental Machines is delivering unprecedented insight into complex processes, helping customers refine and accelerate their work across all phases of product innovation.

By gathering and synthesizing environmental data into actionable information, the Elemental Machines Sensory Network™ provides critical insights that improve transparency, repeatability and outcomes, and save customers time and money.

Track contextual variables (temperature, humidity, air pressure and light) in the research lab or monitor critical equipment performance (freezers, refrigerators, ovens, and incubators) for easy access to performance data, as well as alerts if readings are out of range.


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Last updated: Mar 29, 2019 at 6:55 AM

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