Alternatives Searching and Strategies for Animal Research Protocols

PubMed Tutorial

Contact your Librarian

If you need assistance conducting your searches, contact the librarian assigned to your IACUC.

Completing required searches in TOPAZ

In addition to providing evidence for a determination that a proposed protocol is novel and that the use of animals is justified, documentation of the alternatives search is often used by Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) members to conduct their own research into the methods, outcomes, animal species, and procedures described within the protocol.

Because IACUC members may be non-scientists, or scientists whose expertise is outside of the proposed protocol, the alternatives search information which researchers provide becomes an important resource for helping the committee evaluate the protocol and the justification for animal use. Keeping in mind that the committee is evaluating the protocol and not the science; it is important to find a balance between too little and too much information.

The new TOPAZ form splits the alternatives search requirement into two components:

1. A search for unnecessary duplication

2. A search for alternatives to pain and distress (required only if your protocol has category D or E animals)

In the sections below, you will find information about constructing each of these searches.

Unnecessary Duplication Search

PIs are required to search the literature to show that the proposed animal work does not unnecessarily duplicate existing knowledge. This search should be focused on your research topic and should not use alternatives keywords, such as 'alternative', 'animal model', 'computer', etc.

  • Start by defining your research question(s) and thinking about keywords that apply to your research. See this page for more information. 
  • Construct your search strategy by combining your keywords with connectors like AND & OR
  • Select the appropriate database to search, such as PubMed, TOXNET, Web of Science, or BIOSIS Citation Index. More choices are listed here.

***Please copy and paste the exact search string you used (shown in green below) into the 'Key Words for Unnecessary Duplication Search' box in the TOPAZ form. This way, the IACUC members can accurately evaluate your searches.***

Alternatives to Painful/Distressful Procedures Search

For this search, you are looking for alternatives to painful or distressful procedures. These alternatives include the 3Rs: Reduction (reducing animal numbers), Replacement (using a non-animal model or less sentient species), and Refinement (selecting less painful/distressful procedures). 

  • Start by considering all the procedures in your protocol and determine which have the potential to cause pain or distress. This page lists resources that may be helpful in making this determination, or you may want to consult with the IACUC veterinarian.
  • Brainstorm keywords that relate to your painful/distressful procedures. Think about the procedure itself and the goal of the procedure. For example, if you are using a catheter to monitor blood pressure, you may want to search for both 'catheter' and 'blood pressure monitoring' to discover other techniques that could be used to monitor blood pressure.
  • Select the appropriate database to search. You are required to search PubMed and at least one specialized alternatives database, such as AWIC or AltWeb. More alternatives databases are listed here.

***Please copy and paste the exact search string you used into the 'Key Words for Alternatives to Potentially Painful/Distressful Procedures' box in the TOPAZ form. This allows the IACUC members to accurately evaluate your searches.***

Alternative Search Results Narrative

While many of the elements of the alternatives search narrative are accounted for in the TOPAZ form, for example the time period covered and the date on which the search was performed, some narrative assessment and evaluation of the search results is required. Relevant points and considerations to document include:

  • Were any refinement or reduction alternatives encountered within the literature?
  • Were any replacement alternatives encountered?
  • Which if any alternatives are applicable to the proposed protocol, and how will they be implemented?
  • For alternatives that will not be implemented, briefly describe how they do not apply to the proposed protocol.

Remember that an approved protocol is a publicly discoverable document. By providing a thorough and well organized overview of the alternatives search process and a sufficient narrative to justify the use of animals for a proposed study, researchers both facilitate the activity of the IACUC while documenting ethical animal practices.