Diagnosis Positive - Maintaining the Mind, Body and Spirit in the Face of Illness
Many of us have encouraged friends or loved ones to stay positive when they are confronted with a life-altering illness. Truly this is something more easily preached than practiced. The sea of emotions released by an unfavorable medical diagnosis can easily be woven into a tempest when pessimism and hopelessness intervene. So how can inner strength be found in the presence of such adversity? We considered this question during an insightful conversation with former laboratory animal science manager Laura Gee, who has tempered her experiences of medical adversity with a positive mental and physical way of life. Laura has had the experience of having not one but multiple instances of unfavorable medical diagnosis, and has transformed personal misfortune into a conduit of strength that she uses to help empower others. Since her recent retirement from a successful career in the LAS industry, Laura has refocused her energy toward bringing the message of living a healthy lifestyle to the masses and illustrates the positive impact it provides.
EARLY ONSET - SHAPING THE PATH
Laura Gee was first confronted with health issues during childhood. At age 7, Laura was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. To aid her body with processing sugars, it became necessary for dietary and activity planning to become regimented along with the prescribed daily dosing of insulin. Soon after this inroad in Laura’s young life, she had a brief but affecting conversation with her mother about how dogs helped save her life by contributing to the discovery of insulin. This intrigued Laura, and helped shape her decision to study the veterinary sciences. "I decided early in life that I would work in research so that I could care for and show my appreciation to our laboratory animals - they saved my life."
While studying to be a veterinary technician at the University of Guelph, Laura took a career placement position in the Central Animal Facility. This experience galvanized her interest in laboratory animal science. "The staff were like-minded, compassionate people just like me who wanted only the best for the animals in their care. I could tell laboratory animal science was not only a self-fulfilling career, but a career that would be full of emotion, responsibility, challenge and dedication." These convictions helped Laura throughout her education and subsequent work in the industry.
Laura’s focus and dedication helped her attain credentials as a Registered Laboratory Animal Technician (CALAS), Registered Laboratory Animal Technologist (AALAS) and ultimately a Certified Manager of Animal Resources. She was also very active as a volunteer, serving as Laboratory Animal Welfare Training Exchange (LAWTE) Program Chair, a member of the Board of Directors for the AALAS Appalachian Branch, and as a member of the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Patient Advisory Board. Laura has also served on the Laboratory Animal Managers Association Public Relations Committee and the CALAS National Board of Directors. She has demonstrated a clear commitment to both the laboratory animal science community and the animals in her care. "After working in the field for many years, I know the level of care that each animal must receive, the importance of highly trained personnel, the need for a constant and reliable source for food, water and bedding, and clean housing manufactured with the animals’ needs in mind."
Although Laura has enjoyed many achievements in her life, behind the scenes both she and her family were affected by additional health issues. Her husband Rob became very familiar with the symptomatology associated with Type 1 diabetes while supporting Laura, and came to find that he, too, was experiencing familiar ailments. In 2007, Rob was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Additionally, Laura’s family has had several members diagnosed with cancer. Her mother was among them. During the course of her treatment, Laura’s mother was offered the chance to undergo genetic testing to ascertain whether there was a hereditary aspect to the disease. The results yielded the presence of a BRCA gene mutation. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes produce proteins that aid in the suppression of tumor growth, and the mutation of these genes inhibit their ability to perform this function. There is a 50% chance that the child of a BRCA gene affected parent will likewise inherit the gene. Knowing that if she was a BRCA gene mutation carrier it would significantly increase her risk for cancer, Laura chose to be tested. The results were not in her favor, and she chose to take action. "After my BRCA gene mutation diagnosis, I underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy to help reduce my chances of developing breast cancer." Laura recalls, "In 2011, my younger sister, who also tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, sadly developed cancer. This was a very stressful time. My mother was recovering from cancer, my sister was diagnosed, and I was doing my best to maintain a normal life thousands of miles away from home. The health effects from stress began to show, with missed menstrual periods, headaches and other nutrition sensitivities."
As other sources of stress compounded the biological reactions Laura was experiencing, she realized something was amiss. "I went for various diagnostic tests to determine why I was having food sensitivities and missing periods. I had also suffered a bone fracture in my foot. After many tests and discussions with my medical team, I learned that in addition to type 1 diabetes and a BRCA gene mutation, I developed polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and a hypothalamic dysfunction which is thought to have caused hormonal imbalances and full-blown osteoporosis. Stress can be very damaging." With Laura beset by numerous health issues, it would be understandable for her to become withdrawn and slip into apathy or depression, as coping with a single medical condition can be depleting. However, this too was an outcome Laura has been able to influence.
MODERATING LIFE, AFFECTING HEALTH
In a reflective moment, Laura makes a statement that qualifies the philosophy that has helped her endure. "To me, there is always sunshine in the shadows. It wasn’t fun to be told I was diabetic. It wasn’t fun to be told I have a genetic mutation that significantly increases my lifetime cancer risk. It wasn’t fun to be told I have osteoporosis or PCOS either. However, none of these conditions wrecked my day. I chose to enjoy what I have, versus what I don’t. I am motivated to eat for health and to incorporate exercise into my daily life because all of my current health concerns benefit from such activities. With proper nutrition, I am reducing complications of diabetes, reducing my risk of developing cancer, strengthening my bones, reducing cardiovascular complications and more. Eating healthy is actually not at all difficult, or expensive. And after realizing how fragile life is, the small sacrifice of waking up an hour earlier to get my workout in is minuscule compared with the benefits. It’s perspective."
By taking an active role in her health, Laura has infused her life with activities and habits that have provided her with multiple benefits. A nutritious diet, exercise and above all a positive mental attitude have all contributed to a self-moderated plan that contributes to better overall health. "Our bodies are the only place we have to live, so we need to treat ourselves with that mindset and take care of ourselves. Whether you have a medical illness or not, the body is under some form of daily life stress at all times. Moderation of negative activities that place additional stress on our bodies, such as drinking alcohol, eating too much, smoking, enjoying sugar rich or high fat foods and not getting enough sleep, put undue tension on a system that is already working hard. Everyone has different lifestyles and there is no "one size fits all" concept when it comes to health. By eating whole and naturally nutrient rich foods, getting adequate sleep, drinking proper amounts of water and treating the body like a temple, you provide your body the best chance possible to fight illness. It’s a war that each one of us will have to face at some point in our lives."
Currently, Laura has repurposed the skills and experience that she has gained throughout her life and uses them to help others engage their world in a positive way. The hope is that by doing so, each of the people Laura speaks with will become committed to adopting some of the life skills that have been such a benefit to her. This message can be especially beneficial and inspiring to individuals touched by illness. As Laura herself explains, "When others are going through a difficult time, I try to focus on the good. I have met many newly diagnosed diabetics and they are scared, sad and angry… just like I was. Similarly, when my husband Rob was diagnosed with diabetes in 2007, his good friend - a doctor, said something important that has stuck with us through the years. He said, "The best way to live a long and happy life is to have a chronic illness and treat it well." It’s true. Had I never been diagnosed with diabetes, I likely would never have learned to read nutrition labels or care about the foods I eat. If I hadn’t learned about my genetic mutation, I likely wouldn’t have modified my lifestyle and made fitness such a part of my life. If I didn’t have osteoporosis, I wouldn’t treat my body with respect during fitness activities. I’m sort of an all-or-none type of girl, and simply realizing my mortality has helped me listen to what my body is telling me during training sessions. And, because of all this, I became an online lifestyle coach and fitness motivator who helps others to see what they are capable of… even when they have lost faith in themselves."
Edstrom thanks Laura Gee for sharing her story with us. To learn more about Laura, visit www.lauragee.me.
Choosing The Recirculating Path - Indiana University Chooses an Edstrom Automated Watering System for an Expanding Vivarium
Bob Young, RVT, RLATg is the Facilities and Equipment Operations Manager for the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Laboratory Animal Resource Center (LARC). Bob recently spoke with us regarding the decision to implement a recirculating automated watering system for their expanding vivarium operation, and how the decision came to be.
What species are maintained at the School of Medicine?
We have mice, rats, pigs, dogs, rabbits, zebra fish, and frogs.
What is an approximate animal census at the School of Medicine, and are you anticipating any growth in those populations?
13,000 cages of mice, 3,300 rats, 15 dogs, 80 pigs, 10 rabbits, and one room each of zebra fish and frogs. We anticipate moderate growth in the rodent census, and a stable census for other species.
What prompted you to investigate an automated watering system for your facility?
At the time of planning for this facility we had already had automated water systems at three other locations for many years, including a recirculation system at a large breeding colony facility. The reason we decided on auto water for the facility was due to prior successful outcomes with the recirculation system at the larger facility, and the greatly reduced labor associated with automated water versus using water bottles.
How long did the process take between the time when you first recognized the need for the system and the moment when it was fully operational?
The facility has over 20 animal housing rooms; automated water was in the design from the beginning. The design of the building took about a year and half and the construction took nearly 2 years.
What obstacles did you experience along the way?
None. Our Dean’s office facilities group and consulting architects are very experienced in designing animal research space. A facility of this size really needs an auto water system. Everyone was on board with having an auto water system in our new facility from the beginning.
Were there any engineering challenges that you encountered that needed to be overcome?
The rooms currently served by the system are all on one level - the basement. I know that design was easy. There are plans in the future to add the housing rooms on the upper floors of the building to the auto water system. The design of this additional portion of the system will pose design challenges.
How did you come to choose a recirculating system for your facility, and what factors influenced this decision?
We had very good outcomes using another recirculation system in our large breeding colony facility. We needed superior water quality with no increase in maintenance effort or expense. We were not under pressure to consider water savings when choosing a water system for this facility, however that is always a plus when choosing new equipment.
What prompted the requirement for high quality water?
The facility served by this system does not have immunocompromised animals, but it does have valuable breeding colony animals.
What are some of the things that are done to maintain the system’s performance?
We follow Edstrom’s recommendations for preventative maintenance. We change prefilters, RO filters and UV lamps regularly and check the status of the system holding tank and pressure gauges every day.
What advantages has purchasing an Edstrom automated watering system brought to the vivarium?
Extremely reliable, very high quality water that is provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
What benefits has the staff experienced as a result of using an Edstrom automated watering system?
The facility staff hardly have to think about the system. The system controls are checked daily and also the drinking valves are checked in each animal room daily. The labor associated with watering the breeding colony rooms of the facility every day is almost non-existent.
What game plan was employed for training the staff responsible for caring for the automated watering system?
We have an equipment maintenance technician who has many years’ experience taking care of automated water systems, sterilizers, rack washers, and tunnel washers. We wrote SOPs based on the Edstrom Operations Manual. It was very easy adding this system to his list of responsibilities.
In broad terms, what are some of the SOPs that should be followed to maintain the health of the recirculating system?
An SOP that describes the use and maintenance of the system. We have a general SOP that discusses all of our RO Water Systems and their differences, and an SOP that describes drinking valve sanitation.
What strategy was used to ease the animals’ transition to drinking from valves rather than from bottles?
Many of the animals were transferred to this facility from other facilities that had auto water systems. If the animals came from a water bottle facility, we would press the drinking valve stem each day on every cage for a couple of weeks and closely observe the health of the animals.
What type of water purification or filtration do you use with your system?
The system is supplied by building soft water that is run through a sediment filter, a reverse osmosis filter, and then treated with UV light.
Would you choose a similar watering system again in the future?
If we were to build a facility of this size again in the future, we would definitely want to use a recirculating automated water system. We have had excellent results with this Edstrom system.
Edstrom thanks Bob Young and the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Laboratory Animal Resource Center (LARC) for participating in our newsletter and sharing their system with us. To learn more about Edstrom animal watering systems including recirculating system designs, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Understanding and Controlling Biofilm
In every experimental design, intervening variables are present that have to be constrained. Unfortunately, not all of the variables that can foul scientific outcomes are easily seen. This is especially true for the drinking water animals in the vivarium consume. Of particular concern are the microorganisms, such as bacteria, that seem to defy our every attempt to keep them in check. While methods can be used to keep inorganic material out of drinking water, biofilm creating organisms are champions of resilience, and unfortunately, proliferation.
The Anatomy of Biofilm
Biofilm is a conglomeration of microorganisms surrounded by the slimy matter they secrete in order to help them bond to a surface. The secreted matter, called glycocalyx, also serves to trap nutrients, much like a spider’s web could, for the organisms to feed on. As these microorganisms are well grounded and well fed, they multiply, and multiply, and multiply.
Under the right conditions, bacterial cells will divide into two daughter cells every 20 minutes. Unencumbered, this rate of reproduction can yield over 2,000,000 bacteria within an 8 hour period, and all from a single bacterial cell. By the time we can see the encroachment with our naked eye, millions upon millions of bacteria have taken up residence within the mire of biofilm. The numbers are clearly against us. But although the growth of biofilm cannot be prevented altogether, there are things that can be done to keep it under control. Together, these methods are our best defense against the onslaught.
Keeping the Cupboard Bare
One of the ways to minimize growth of biofilm is to restrict the nutrients available to them. As with all organisms, if there is no consistent food source, there is no ability to thrive. Biofilms are often comprised of many kinds of microorganisms working in symbiosis. Each may bring biological characteristics, such as the production of specific digestive enzymes, that enable the colony as a whole to achieve what a single organism cannot – making the inedible edible. Armed with this knowledge, it is critical that the water supply is made as nutrient poor as possible. Utilizing a multi-tiered system of filtration such as a particle filter, ultrafilter and reverse osmosis system narrows the sources of nutrients available for biofilm to grow. By making the nutrient resources scarcer, the ability for starved microorganisms to reproduce is diminished.
Building an Unfriendly Environment
The unfortunate truth is that microorganisms are opportunistic architects. Whether your vehicle for water delivery is composed of plastic or electropolished stainless steel makes no difference; the organisms have the ability to adhere to the surface of the material. But here, too, there are opportunities to make conditions for biofilm growth unfavorable.
Clean Joint Piping and Room Distribution Systems
The joint between two lengths of tubing or pipe are an ideal location to host biofilm. These dead spaces or dead legs provide additional surface area for adhesion and growth, and also form crevices where sanitizing agents may not reach. To eliminate the gap between pipe lengths, a rubber seal can be used to bridge the lengths thereby removing the dead spaces in between. Edstrom’s Clean Joint piping systems use this method of design.
Periodic flushing of automated watering systems and components will intervene with biofilm growth. Occasional flushing helps prevent room distribution piping from becoming occluded with biofilm by creating a high velocity water flow that will loosen the grasp of biofilm. The turbulent water then carries the microorganisms out of the system and down the drain.
A key piece of the puzzle is sanitizing equipment. There are a variety of chemical and physical methods that can be employed to kill microorganisms or remove biofilm. One particularly effective method is the use of chlorine. Using a measured quantity of chlorine solution at a defined interval (as prescribed by the sanitizing equipment manufacturer) can be highly effective for killing bacteria and reducing attached biofilm. Chlorine can also be used in low concentrations as a residual biocide between sanitizing cycles.
A Never-Ending Battle
There is currently no surefire strategy to altogether eliminate biofilm growth in animal watering systems. Biofilm will grow on any material used for system delivery. High reproduction rates assure that even if 99.9% of biofilm causing microorganisms are killed or removed from the system, the problem will recur over time. Our best defense against these organisms and their confounding effect on scientific studies is to use all possible means available to reduce their number.
For more information on biofilm, contact an Edstrom representative, email email@example.com, or download our free white paper at Document Center
Q: A researcher at our facility is preparing to begin a study that involves introducing a water soluble compound into drinking water. We have an Edstrom Sipper Sack® system, but have never used it for this purpose – only for individual cage watering. Can the Sipper Sack be used to meet the need of this researcher?
A: Yes. After the Sipper Sack has been filled, the water soluble compound can be injected through the opening in the sack prior to inserting the valve.
To learn more about the sipper sack system, click this link or contact an Edstrom representative.
Q: Is there a method that Edstrom recommends for sanitizing drinking valves?
A: Edstrom can provide detailed information that describes our recommendations for sanitizing or sterilizing drinking valves based on a variety of equipment you may have at your facility. This includes methods such as the use of a tunnel/rack washer, ultrasonic cleaning, and autoclaving. Contact your Edstrom sales representative or Edstrom Technical Support for documentation that outlines these procedures.
Do you have a question for the Edstrom Update Newsletter? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org