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News Release

August 23, 2005

Prof Honoured for Research, Dedication to Animal Welfare

A University of Guelph professor is one of two people worldwide to receive a new award recognizing outstanding commitment to improving the care and housing of laboratory animals.

Georgia Mason of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science received the Charles River Laboratories Excellence in Refinement Award today in Berlin, Germany. The presentation was made during the World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences. Bert van Zutphen, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, was also honoured.

"This award is exciting and flattering for me personally, but its creation is also a sign of how important the field of animal welfare science has become," Mason said.

Alan Wildeman, U of G's vice-president (research) said: "This is well-deserved recognition for Dr. Mason. She is deeply committed to improving animal welfare and to helping people better understand why it's an issue of the utmost importance. Her research challenges all of us to think about the enormous control that we have over the lives of so many animals."

The inaugural international award is sponsored by Charles River Laboratories and John Hopkins University's Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing. Mason was recognized for research that "provides solid scientific grounding for efforts to refine animal research studies, increases our understanding of stress biology and offers practical insights into improving animal welfare," according to a citation.

"I'm very interested in improving the welfare of the millions of mice and rats used in research," said Mason, who came to Guelph in 2004 as a prestigious Canada Research Chair. She added there are often political or other motives involved in animal welfare issues, "but I'm interested in assessing animals' needs in an objective way."

Mason's work on laboratory animals includes understanding their responses to stress (e.g. why mice jump up and down thousands of times a night or chew on the bars of their cages for hours) and using these measures to answer practical questions, like how often to clean rat cages and what enrichments should be provided to research monkeys. She is also focussed on increasing understanding of the relationships between animal husbandry and animal welfare across a range of other species.

Mason came to U of G from the University of Oxford in England, where she was a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council David Phillips Research Fellow and an investigator in the Animal Behaviours Research Group. She has also done extensive research on the welfare of elephants and carnivores in zoos and mink on fur farms, focussing on how different species vary in their response to captive husbandry. Her work has appeared in publications such as Nature, New Scientist and Science.

Mason is also interested in how early-life experience — particularly the quality and quantity of maternal care — modifies an animal's long-term response to challenges inherent in captivity.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, Ext. 56982.

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