IACUC, Animal Welfare, Literature Reviews: Getting Started
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Find information to help search for alternatives (aka the "3Rs") mandated by the Animal Welfare Act and required for IACUC protocols (Breeding, section 6; Research, section 7; Instruction, section 2g) for Virginia Tech. Use the tabs below to jump to any s

Worksheet to assist with protocol development

Use the following worksheet to help keep track of the searches conducted, experts consulted, and justifications if an alternative is found, but why it will not work for your research, teaching, or breeding protocol.

The use of this worksheet is completely voluntary; it is not submitted to the IACUC for a proposal review. 

However, it can be used to assist with determining resources to consult and develop effective search strategies to compile 3Rs related information for the IACUC protocols at Virginia Tech.  

Additional guide on literature searching

Check out UNC's Health Sciences Library guide on "Searching the Literature for Animal Testing Alternatives" (UNC Health Sciences Library) - provides a step-by-step literature review process specifically for the 3Rs/alternatives.

Requirements for IACUC protocols

As stated in the USDA Animal Care Policy Manual  (Policy 12):

  • "Alternatives should be considered in the planning phase of the animal use proposal."
  • "APHIS continues to recommend a database search as the most effective and efficient method for demonstrating compliance with the requirement to consider alternatives to painful/distressful procedures. However, in some circumstances (as in highly specialized fields of study), conferences, colloquia, subject expert consultants, or other sources may provide relevant and up-to-date information regarding alternatives in lieu of, or in addition to, a database search."

To comply with the mandates, the alternatives literature search sections for each IACUC protocol at Virginia Tech must include:

  • Names of the databases searched (minimum of two databases)
    • Ideally search those most appropriate to the topic, even if in another discipline than your own
  • Keywords used in conducting the database search (at a minimum, connected by the Boolean Operator "AND") and the number of hits in each database
    • Best practice is include the full search strategy used for each of the 3Rs (can be added as a separate document), such as:
      • (pig OR pigs OR piglet OR piglets OR swine OR porcine) AND ("liver cells" OR hepatocytes) AND (imaging OR "magnetic resonance imaging" OR MRI)
        • Number of hits = 30
  • Date(s) the search(es) were performed
    • The searches should be done with an adequate amount of time to read relevant sources found, not the day before the protocol is submitted.
  • Years included in the search criteria
    • While no minimum is specified, general guideline is to include at least the past ten years or more
  • Identification of any potential 3Rs that were found
    • Search for all three types of alternatives, indicate which one or ones (refinement, reduction, replacement) have been identified as having potential alternatives for your study
  • Justification if an alternative was found but not used
    • While an alternative may have been located, it may not be feasible to incorporate.  However, you must justify why the alternative was not included

As noted, other sources besides databases may be used to locate alternatives, including:

  • subject expert consultants
  • conferences/proceedings

Record any non-database sources in the IACUC worksheet (download through the link in the upper left hand corner of this page) and make sure to note in the protocol any additional sources outside of the database searches that have been consulted.

Other tips

  • Select the appropriate databases for your research project.
    • See the "Recommended Databases" and "Specialized 3R/Alternative Databases" tabs for recommendations or to contact the librarian to assist with selecting sources to search
    • Note, some databases have different names but actually search the same set of information sources (e.g. PubMed is one version of MedLine, so searching both really only counts as only one database search, not two)
  • Search a minimum of 10 years. This is important as terminology may change over time.
  • When selecting appropriate keywords, be sure to include related terms/phrases.
  • Think about creating an account in the databases you find most useful - this will allow you to to save your search strategy and reuse/rerun as needed.

Librarian Liaison to the IACUC

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Kiri DeBose
Vet Med Library
245 Duck Pond Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061

The "3Rs" for Alternatives

REDUCE: minimize how many animals are used.

REFINE: use techniques/procedures that minimize distress and pain to animals.

REPLACE: substitute animal models with non-animal techniques or lower organisms.

Adapted from: Russel, WMS and RL Burch (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. Universities Federation of Animal Welfare: England, 238p.

More info:
National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research