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Instructions for Searches to Alternatives for Animal Use

Instructions for Searches to Alternatives for Animal Use


The Animal Welfare Act Regulations, Section 2.31 and USDA (Policy #11 and #12 ) require that a written narrative be provided by the Principle Investigator (PI) to determine whether or not alternatives exist to procedures which may cause pain or distress in animals used for teaching or research. In addition, if alternatives exist but are not used, the PI must justify why this is the case. Although searching for animal alternatives may seem to be an overwhelming task, it is hoped that the information in this document will assist animal users with this federally mandated task.

Definition of Alternatives

Alternatives refer to methods or approaches which result in refinement of procedures which lessen pain and/or distress; reduction in numbers of animals required; or replacement of animals with non-whole-animal systems or replacement of one animal species with another, particularly if the substituted species is non-mammalian or invertebrate.

Animal Welfare Act Regulations

The AWA regulations require the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to determine that "the principle investigator has considered alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals and has provided a written narrative description of the methods and sources used to determine that alternatives were not available." The PI must provide scientific justification to the IACUC if alternatives are available but not used.

Types of Studies Requiring an Alternatives Search

Not all animal use protocols require an alternatives search. Only studies utilizing procedures which result in more than momentary or slight pain or distress require a search. Examples include: toxicity and infectious disease research, tumor induction or transplantation studies, survival and non-survival surgical procedures, pain research, in vivo monoclonal or polyclonal antibody production procedures, fluid and/or food restriction, and prolonged restraint. This list is not exhaustive. If you are unsure whether a search is required, please consult an IACUC Specialist.

Alternatives Narrative

The written narrative for the search for alternatives must include the following minimum: methods of searching, databases searched, the date of the search and years covered, and key words and/or search strategy used by the PI. If alternatives exist to the proposed animal procedures in the protocol, the PI must scientifically justify why these alternatives are not used. This information must be updated with each three-year renewal of the animal use protocol. Examples of narratives are listed below.

Database and Web Site Searching

Computerized storage of scientific information makes database searching relatively easy. Databases frequently used, and available on-line at the U of I, for alternatives searches include TOXLINE, GRATEFUL MED, Cancerlit, Bioethics, and AIDSLINE (National Library of Medicine), and CAB Abstracts and AGRICOLA. Depending on the subject, searching several of these databases for alternatives is considered adequate by the IACUC.

Problems often arise in choosing keywords and search strategies that will yield the most pertinent information. Appropriate search terms or keywords include animal testing alternatives, alternatives, tissue culture, cell culture, simulation, in vitro, and model. Additional keywords can be found on the UC Center for Animal Alternatives web page (see below). These terms are useful, but are not the only terminology possible. The following web sites provide additional information PI's may find helpful in completing an alternatives search:

Searchable Databases and Web Resources:

U of I Searchable Databases

Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC)

Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing - CAAT

NORINA Alternatives Databases

National Library of Medicine, Alternatives to animals in biomed (search engine)


UC Davis Center for Animal Alternatives

Antibody Production Alternatives:

Monoclonal Antibody Production: A Report of the Committee on Methods of Producing Monoclonal Antibodies, ILAR, National Research Council

AWIC Informational Resources for Adjuvants and Antibody Production

Monoclonal Antibody Production: The Report and Recommendations of the ECVAM

Antibody Resource Page

Additional Alternative Search Links:

The following additional alternative search links have been provided from a recent article in "Lab Animal", "Free Web Resources on Alternatives" Volume 33, No. 3, March 2004:

ALTWEB (Alternatives to Animal Testing on the Web)

Created to serve as a gateway to alternatives news, information, and resources on the internet and beyond, Altweb has five practical goals:

• To provide scientists and others with a means for conducting a complete and appropriate alternatives search from one central, easily accessible location; 
• To serve as a central reference point for alternatives information, publications, databases, calendars, and other resources;
• To support the creation and maintenance of new alternative resources as needed, when no other organization can/will do so;
• To promote the use of alternatives resources by publicizing them on the site and through email or other outreach; and
• To facilitate communication and collaboration among members of the alternatives community, in particular those who work in database or information management.

NAL Animal Use Alternatives Thesaurus

Produced by the US National Agricultural Library (NAL), this site provides a classification of terminology relating to alternatives and animal welfare, constituting a valuable resource in harmonizing the terms used in this field.

ALTBIB: Bibliography on Alternatives to the Use of Live Vertebrates in Biomedical Research and Testing

Produced by experts at the US National Library of Medicine from MEDLARS searches, ALTBIB is an online bibliography of published alternatives presented as a searchable database and as individual issues that can be browsed.

Animal Welfare Institute

This link provides access to the following databases:

• Environmental Enrichment for Primates: Annotated Database of Environmental Enrichment and Refinement of Husbandry for Nonhuman Primates;

• Database of Refinement of Housing and Handling Conditions and Environmental Enrichment for Laboratory

• Animals: Rodents, Rabbits, Cats, Dogs, Ferrets, Farm Animals, Horses, Birds, Fishes, Amphibians and Reptiles and
Refinement and Environmental Enrichment for All Laboratory Animals.

Viktor Reinhardt and Annie Reinhardt at the Animal Welfare Institute maintain these databases, which are searchable by keywords.

ICCVAM (The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods)/NICEATM (The National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods)

ICCVAM unites representatives from 15 federal agencies that generate or use information from toxicological test methods to support human health or environmental risk assessments. ICCVAM is responsible for the coordination of the development and review of various alternative toxicological methods. NICEATM provides operational support to ICCVAM. The two groups advocate the harmonization of test methods nationally and internationally. This site provides links to the participating agencies and reports on their activities in reviewing alternative test methods.

The Norwegian Reference Centre for Laboratory Animal Science & Alternatives (NORINA)

The Laboratory Animal Unit, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Oslo, has compiled an English-language database of audiovisuals and other alternatives for use in the biological sciences. The primary purpose of the database is to offer an overview of possible alternatives or supplements to the use of animals in student teaching, at all levels from schools to university. NORINA has a separate TextBase for textbooks addressing laboratory animal science.


Karma Smith, Laboratory Animal Unit, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, compiled this database of books on laboratory animal science and the ‘3Rs’. It now contains 725 records that give bibliographical details and in some cases an indication of contents.

ZEBET (Center for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternative Methods to Animal Experiments; Zentralstelle zur Erfassung und Bewertung von Ersatz und Erganzungsmethoden zum Tierversuch)

In 2000, Germany's Federal Institute for Consumer Health Protection and Veterinary Medicine put the ZEBET database online in English via DIMDI (Deutsches Institut fur Medizinische Dokumentation und Information), or the German Institute for Medical Documentation and Information.
ZEBET is a German full-text database of alternative methods to animal experiments, now available in English. It has more than 4,000 bibliographical references to about 300 replacement, refinement, and reduction alternatives in all fields of biomedical research. The record for each method includes an expert analysis of the method and the animal-based one that it replaces. This valuable information is not often available from most online databases. The ZEBET Database, hosted by DIMDI (indexed under AnimAltZEBET), may be searched free of charge either alone or simultaneously with MEDLINE and TOXLINE. There are a maximum number of users supported at any one time, and the database denies access once this limit is reached. Users should also note particularly if they are in other time zones, that the service is unavailable daily between 5:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Central European Time (CET=+6 hours EST) and on one specified day per month between 6:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. CET.DIMDI is less useful than other sites for free MEDLINE searches, because the no-fee interface is slow, not very user-friendly, and does not seem to offer additional features as found elsewhere.

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