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3Rs Searching: Searching

Links to searching advice and resources

Approach to the 3Rs search

Searches for information that allows researchers to reduce, refine and replace experimental animals, while required, also promote better science by

  • avoiding duplication
  • revealing methods that might reduce experimental harm, such as developments in veterinary pharmaceuticals to improve analgesia,  or changes in technology that would allow animals to be image rather than sacrificed, etc.; to reduce animal numbers, and/or to define humane endpoints.

The AWIC suggests a two-phase approach:

  • Phase I:  Reduction and Refinement - general search of methods addressing your research area
  • Phase II:  Replacement - search for alternative species or non-animal experimental techniques

Refinement alternatives are often found using terms relevant to the area of study.  Phase I searches that are properly performed are well done literature reviews that should be part of any rigorous research background. 

One skilled alternatives searcher starts a Phase I search with the research topic to see what general information is available (e.g. osteomyelitis), and then adds in qualifiers to narrow down the search (e.g. bacteria, trauma, etc.). This keeps the search open to various animal and non-animal models.

Eventually, he adds in the specific model being used (e.g. rats) to address reduction and refinement. He doesn't regularly use terms such as alternatives or non-animal in his replacement searches unless looking at teaching/training protocols or toxicology protocols, although he does occasionally look for alternatives, humane, “animal welfare” just to see if anything pops up. The search term alternative* may retrieve many articles with a meaning unrelated to the 3Rs. [from IACUC-SIG MLA listserv discussion]

Besides 'alternatives' being too ambiguous of a term, searching for alternatives is more complex than just including that or other simple phrases. It may only return studies designed specifically to look for alternative procedures and models and exclude those in which these alternatives were used or developed as part of a larger study.  AWIC recommends the use of  “alternatives” as a search term only in those areas of study where large amounts of research have been conducted on alternatives, such as in toxicology or education. [AWIC]

Read through the UC Davis Guide Alternatives and Searching the Literature for Animal Research (under 3R searching advice). 

Penn-accessible databases are listed on the Databases tab.



Talk with a librarian

3R searching advice

These resources provide 3R searchers with some concrete examples of how to conduct 3R searches and what to look for in results.  Print out the Worksheet, then view the AWIC training slides.  The UCDavis site illustrates these concepts in more familiar databases, with links in context to other useful resources.

Sample search terms

Samples of search terms from expert searchers.  The terms are not comprehensive and should not all be included in a search for a given protocol.

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