The Central Animal Facility research group is a central service facility of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI). It is responsible for the humane treatment and orderly care of the laboratory animals required for scientific research purposes at the HZI, taking all relevant statutory regulations into account. About 20.000 mice are used for scientific purposes at the HZI. In particular, this includes research into the biomedical basis of various infectious diseases together with the development of new prophylactics and treatment options to counter infectious diseases in humans and animals.
For a number of years now gene technology procedures have made it possible to undertake targeted modification of genetic make-up in laboratory mice. This enables model organisms to be created for research into severe human illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer's, auto-immune and metabolic diseases. Consequently, the last 10 years have seen a significant rise in both scientific interest in laboratory mice and the number of mice that are kept.
Transgenic mice are mice with additionally transferred genetic material. Knock-out mice are mice in which genes have been switched off in a targeted manner. The latter process in particular, which was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2007, enables specific genetic make-up to be switched off in the animal as a whole or only in individual tissues or cells of an organism. This is an excellent means of investigating individual components of the immune defence in order to determine what reactions of the immune system to a pathogen are of significance in protecting against infection. In addition, genetic factors may also be analysed for receptiveness or resistance to specific infectious pathogens.
All laboratory mice are kept in individually ventilated cage systems under so-called barrier conditions, thus ensuring that these animals cannot come into contact with pathogens. These elaborate hygiene conditions are comparable to those found in the operating theatre of a hospital. These barrier areas are strictly separated from the outside world and are ventilated with sterile filtered air. All supplies are brought in in a sterile condition. Personnel are required to shower and put on sterile clothing on passing the barrier.
Each individual cage is ventilated with sterile filtered air, all work on the mice is performed at a sterile workbench. Conversely, the same conditions also ensure that no pathogens are able to leave the animal cages and enter the outside world in the course of infection experiments. In this case all used cages and the entire waste are sterilised using autoclaves. Barrier conditions such as these require particularly complex service plant.