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Vol. LVIII, No. 12
June 16, 2006

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Foundations of Research
From Cagewasher to Project Manager

Project Manager Barbara Rodriguez with Mumar Aguilar, cagewash assistant foreman  
Twelve years ago, when Barbara Rodriguez came to the Veterinary Resources Division, ORS, she knew nothing of scientific research. But after 1 year as a cagewasher, a couple of things became clear: "We are the foundations of research," she says.

She also realized that she could make a career out of it. Combining hard work with continuing education, she got a string of promotions: from cagewasher to animal caretaker, then to environmental technician, up to cagewash supervisor, floor supervisor, assistant project manager and now to her current position as project manager. "Research is not done overnight," she notes. "Some studies go 10 to 15 years, and it's very important to get the proper training."

Rodriguez describes cagewashing as physically demanding and laborious, and, although some people enjoy it, it's still a hot and noisy job with exacting standards. "It's not like washing dishes," she explains. "We wear scrubs, booties, gloves, bonnets, masks and overalls over our scrubs. We dip our [gloved] hands in chlorine dioxide, so there's no cross-contamination. Using aseptic technique, we move the animal to a clean cage. Then the dirty cage gets sanitized, disinfected and sterilized. Every day we have cages to change."

They start their day by observing their charges closely; any animal not doing well is immediately reported to the veterinarian assigned to the unit. In addition to being fed and housed, the animals get snacks and treats like pineapples, kale, apples and oranges. The rabbits are taken out for exercise in baby pools (without water). Meanwhile the room is swept, mopped and monitored for appropriate decibel levels, temperature and humidity.

Front, from l: Maria Guzman, cagewash technician; Barbara Rodriguez, project manager; Lucas Desouza, cagewash technician; Second row: Clovis Nogouambe, cagewash technician; Back, from l: Antwan Pointer, cagewash technician; Mumar Aguilar, cagewash assistant foreman; Carlos Blum, cagewash foreman; Olapomi Olorunfemi, cagewash technician

"By taking care of the study models," Rodriguez explains, "we are the eyes and ears of the scientists. The lab head comes to this facility with her peers; they are in touch with us all the time. They tell us their needs; it's a constant exchange."

The profile of the cagewasher has changed, she says, from a kid straight out of high school to "immigrants who have their degrees already." This month, she will take yet another step up: she'll sit for her CMAR exam (one of a series approved by the American Association of Laboratory Scientists) to become a certified manager of animal resources.

"This whole research system," she explains, "is built in layers, one on another, and is important to society as a whole. This is not a pet store. If only people knew how well the animals are taken care of. Every bit of education helps."

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