Sandgren Lab

Current Initiatives


While Director of UW-Madison’s Research Animal Resources Center (RARC), I was responsible for establishing and maintaining a high quality program of animal care and use, and serving as spokesperson for animal research issues at UW-Madison. These activities are described in more detail under “Accomplishments”. Now that I have stepped down as Director and returned to the faculty of the School of Veterinary Medicine, I am developing communication tools that can be used to more effectively explain why and how we work with animals in research, teaching, and outreach. With public acceptance of animal-based biomedical research at a low, honest and detailed communication has become essential. At the same time, I intend to identify and promote improvements in research animal wellbeing. To accomplish these objectives, I started a Common Ground on Animal Research initiative within UW-Madison and the surrounding community, which brings together scientists, ethicists, and community members to work toward shared objectives in this area. I have identified two shared objectives: (1) creating more comprehensive, accurate, and open communication about animal research, and (2) working to improve research animal wellbeing. I am planning to incorporate these activities into a funded Center within the School of Veterinary Medicine. Attempts to create common ground working groups at the national level have had limited success. I hope to determine whether they can succeed on a smaller scale at the level of campus and the surrounding community.

As part of the first common ground initiative, I have established a new program of research in the social sciences. Members of the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC) are world-recognized experts in studying how people make decisions about complex scientific issues that have strong ethical, political, and social components. Simply trying to “present the facts” does not constitute effective communication. Coordinating efforts with LSC, Dr. Robert Streiffer in the Departments of Philosophy and Medical History and Bioethics, and the UW Survey Center, I will apply what LSC is learning about science communication to the issue of animals in research. This line of research builds on my strengths in understanding the biological basis of animal use in research, animal research regulation, and a longstanding history of public communication in this area. It also brings in complementary expertise from ethics and communications research.

Mission statement for the communication initiative: “The scientific and ethical underpinnings of animal research are complex and multidisciplinary. Our objective is to develop and refine communication models that will help an audience make good decisions about if, when, and how animal research can be acceptable, and to understand the consequences of those decisions. The models must accurately describe costs and benefits of animal research, and identify tools to balance them against each other. The models also must be inclusive and respectful of the perspectives of all audience members.”

The second common ground initiative seeks to measure and improve research animal wellbeing through scientific identification of ways to improve animal care, and development and application of tools to quantify wellbeing. This line of research builds on my training and experience as a veterinarian, and takes advantage of the outstanding animal research capabilities at UW-Madison.

Mission statement for the wellbeing initiative: “When using animals in research, teaching, or outreach, we must acknowledge our responsibility to maximize animal wellbeing, as measured at the level of the individual animal, each animal care and use protocol, and the entire animal program. We have established three objectives that address this responsibility. First, we will support scientific studies to identify best practices in the provision of species-specific medical, environmental, and social wellbeing. Second, we will develop metrics to quantify animal pain, distress, or long-term impairment caused by experimental procedures or animal husbandry. Third, we will demonstrate how to apply these metrics to achieve significant and continuous improvements in animal wellbeing, as consistent with both sound science and rigorous ethical review of every proposed animal use.”

I appreciate the chance to continue and extend this work with the encouragement of the School of Veterinary Medicine.


In addition to teaching veterinary general pathology and animal research ethics and regulation, I have developed a course on general pathology for biomedical sciences graduate students and advanced undergraduates, to be offered in the fall of 2016. There is a critical need on campus for training of this type because many students work with animals as part of their research on specific diseases. In addition to the general principles of pathology, I provide lectures targeted to the specific research needs of students on this campus. Topics include: animal model validation (species similarities and differences); intended and unintended consequences of genetic engineering; in vivo effects of and on bioengineered structures; comparative issues involving in vivo, in vitro, and in silico studies; study design and experimental tools in pathology; and research ethics.

Second, I have developed a course entitled “Addressing Controversy: The Science, Ethics, and Communication of Animal Research”, to be offered to undergraduate students in the spring of 2017. This course builds on my appreciation for the complexity of communicating scientific issues like research with animals, in which ethical, political, and social considerations may have as much or more impact on people’s opinions as do facts. This course has two overarching goals. The first is to provide a background in the rationale and history of animal use in science, ethical principles relevant to this subject, and key requirements that have been identified for effectively communicating about complex science of this type. Second, the course will give students experience in critiquing and then creating presentations that incorporate both the benefits and costs of animal research. The overall objective is to guide students to develop honest and well-justified views of animal research, and learn how to communicate those views to others. This course is a part of my larger research program that seeks to develop and share validated models of communication about animal research that avoid the “sound bite” approaches typically used in the debate. I plan to develop course alternatives that can be offered to either advanced or beginning undergraduates, as well as students in K-12.