MUN's new $36M animal centre will house mice, woodchucks and exotic swine

Memorial University's newest animal research building will house a variety of species, including woodchucks and Yucatan minipigs.

New research building necessary for the university to keep its certificate of good animal practice

Memorial University's new Animal Resource Centre is expected to cost more than $35 million. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Woodchucks and Yucatan minipigs are just two of the species that will be housed at Memorial University's new animal research building.

The new $36-million Animal Resource Centre, which is receiving both federal and provincial money, will replace the university's five-decade-old ARC facility.

"It's being built for MUN's animal care and use program," said the university's veterinarian Jennifer Keyte.

We're very fortunate here at Memorial University to have an exotic swine herd.- Jennifer Keyte
"And it will house the work that's being done by researchers and teaching faculty with the faculties of medicine, the school of pharmacy and also the school of science."
Jennifer Keyte is a Memorial University veterinarian and its director of animal-care services. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Keyte, the director of animal-care services, says the new building is necessary for the university to keep its certificate of good animal practice from the Canadian Council on Animal Care, the national body that regulates all animal care and use for animals, including the ethical use of animals for research and teaching.

"The standards for animal facilities are stronger, more robust, now than they were when the current facilities were built," she said.

"Memorial does hold a certificate of good animal practice but the CCAC has identified that our facilities no longer meet the standards. So that was the need for this new building."

Woodchucks and exotic swine

Keyte says the new facility will carry out research on 'the usual suspects," such as rats and mice, but will also be home to some less common species.
Woodchucks, which are also known as groundhogs, are used to study hepatitis at Memorial University. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"We've got researchers who look into infectious diseases with a woodchuck model and we are very fortunate here at Memorial University to have an exotic swine herd — so these are Yucatan minipigs," she said.

Keyte says woodchucks are useful for studying the hepatitis virus.

"The progression of the disease in woodchucks really closely mirrors that in humans, and yet the woodchuck hepatitis virus is not infectious to humans." she said.

Yucatan minipigs are also good for research — much better than more common pigs that may weight 300 kilograms.
Pigs are used by researchers because their hearts and digestive systems are very similar to human cardiovascular and digestive systems. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

"So, you don't want something that big. The minipigs max out at around 60 kilograms so they are close to the size of an adult human, and the swine heart, for example, closely mirrors that of the human heart. Also the whole digestive system and the swine eye is very close to the human eye," said Keyte.

2 years from moving in

The new building is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2019.

This is what the new Animal Resource Centre, near the Health Sciences Centre, is expected to look like when it's completed. (NXL Architects)

"But then we have an extensive period of commissioning, which means checking all of the systems. We need to verify that everything is working. So it will be the latter half of 2020 before we have completely moved in," said Keyte.

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About the Author

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.