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University of Florida Improves Lab-Animal Tracking

The school's animal-care services department has eliminated errors and reduced labor costs with an RFID cage-inventory system that issues an alert when rodents go uncounted.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 28, 2007The University of Florida (UF) is employing an RFID system to track thousands of rodents housed for research and experimentation. The college had been testing and expanding the system for the past year, and currently tracks about 6,000 cages of laboratory rats and mice, with plans to track all 11,000 cages in its custody by March 1, 2008. That amounts to about 35,000 rodents.

The system, provided by data-collection solutions firm Dynasys, enables the school's department of animal-care services to better track the movement of the animal cages for billing accuracy, and spares the university staff hours of labor spent conducting regular inventories of the cages and animals.

The University of Florida is using RFID to track thousands of rodents housed for research and experimentation.

UF's department of animal-care services houses and provides care for research animals at a fee, charged to the researcher or directly to the grant funding the research. For about 84 cents a day per animal, the department feeds and cares for the research animals, which are caged alone or in groups of up to five. Researchers generally pay for the animal care through the grants received from government agencies or other sponsors. However, tracking thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of cages at a facility on a regular basis can be extremely time-consuming and fraught with errors. Employees either check the ID on the handwritten cards (known as protocol cards) attached to each cage, or use a bar-code scanner to read each cage's bar-coded label.

UF employees previously used mobile bar-code readers to scan the cage numbers, according to UF's attending veterinarian and director of animal-care services, August Battles. Inaccuracies occurred when an employee failed to scan all the cages, and if a cage was misplaced—put in the wrong room, for instance—finding it and moving it to the correct location could be a time-consuming endeavor. Researchers often questioned the university's billing statements, and there were times when a cage remained in UF custody and the animals were cared for, but the researchers were not billed because the cage was not scanned and inventoried.

Battles turned to Texas Instruments (TI) in early 2006, looking for an automated, RFID-based system. TI recommended the university work with Dynasys, based in Clearwater, Fla., to develop a tracking system. Battles, together with UF engineering professors and Dynasys representatives, discussed and planned the solution for about six months before installing it last winter.

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