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Alternatives Searching  

A guide to support searching for alternatives in research and education
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2017 URL: http://guides.lib.ucdavis.edu/alternatives-searching Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Define questions Print Page


Terms and ideas from proposed study, possible search terms, possible search questions

Reading through the protocol, make notes of terminology, procedures, drugs, considering what questions need to be asked related to replacement (model choice/necessity), reduction (unnecessary duplication, study design), and refinement (methods/procedures potential pain/distress), and current best practice/SOP/guidelines.

Questions to be searched common to all protocols

Is the proposed research necessary, what has already been done in this area, what models have been used, what best methods/procedures, and
alternative consideration for potential pain and distress

  • List every procedures in the protocol that has the potential to cause pain or distress.
  • Identify other possible terms for each technique that you have identified; determine if a subject heading for each procedure exists in the database that you are using. 
  • Search each of these procedures, considering alternative methods to accomplish the same goal.
  • Begin by searching broadly for each technique. Next, try combining each technique with some of the keywords and subject headings for pain/distress prevention and control, analgesia/anesthesia, and refinement as listed in keywords and in the search examples.


Reduction and Refinement keywords


Analgesic, hypnotic, sedative, tranquilizer

Anesthesia, anaesthesia


Assay, technique, method, procedure

Enrichment (behavioral, environmental)

Experimental design

Handling, housing, husbandry, caging

Invasive, non-invasive

Monitoring device

Positive reinforcement

Postoperative, postsurgery

Reduction, refinement

Restraint, restrict, immobilize

Train, educate, teach, instruct

Welfare, pain, stress, distress


Replacement keywords

Algae, fungus, hydra, plant

Anesthesia, anesthesia, anaesthesia

Animal testing alternatives, alternative


Artificial intelligence system, AI

Assay, technique, method, procedure

Autopsy, biopsy

Bacteria, microorganism, protozoan,
  single-celled organism, yeast


Cell, cell line, cellular

Computer aided instruction,
  computer assisted instruction, CAI

Culture (cell, tissue, organ)

Digital imaging

Environmental enrichment

Fish, cephalopod

Insect, invertebrate

Isolated (cell, tissue, organ)

Mannequin, manikin, manikin

Membrane, organ, organelle, slice,
  tissue, tissue equivalent

Model, modelling

Physicochemical systems



Replacement, surrogate

Simulation (computer)


Structure-activity relationship


Train, educate, teach, instruct


Virtual (surgery, reality)

Vitro (AND method, model, technique)


Formulate the questions

for example

What is the effect of [intervention/exposure] on [outcome measures] in [animal species/population] for [disease/health problem]?

How to teach [procedure/technique] to [populaton]?


Consider the research-related terms
Scientific, common names of any species
Scientific, common names of any diseases, conditions
Generic name, trade names of any drugs, chemicals
Scientific, common terms for tissues, systems, or cell lines
Treatments, procedures


Note keywords and synonyms
It is important to record these keywords at the beginning of your literature search so that you are able to both be consistent across searches and provide the required narrative account of your literature search in your protocol. If you make changes or additions to your list of keywords, include those changes in your records.

3Rs-related keywords
There are many options for keywords in the 3Rs. When choosing keywords, it is important to know if the specific database has a special vocabulary - it may index one keyword but not its synonym. It may also require you to put your keywords in a specific format.  

For example, PubMed's subject headings, MeSH, are different from that used by CAB or AGRICOLA.  



USDA's Policy #11: Painful and Distressful Procedures  Defines a painful procedure as "any procedure that would reasonably be expected to cause more than slight or momentary pain or distress in a human being to which that procedure is applied, that is, pain in excess of that caused by injections or other minor procedures."
USDA's Policy #12: Consideration of Alternatives to Painful/Distressful Procedures  Details the requirement of considering alternatives to painful and distressful procedures, recommending a database search as the most effective method to determine alternatives.

Animal Welfare Act - Requirements for the Minimization of Pain and Distress
W.R. DeHaven summarizes the requirements of Policies #11 and #12.

AWIC's Pain and Distress page  List of resources about pain management, alleviation, humane endpoints, and refinement techniques in various species
Assessment of potentially painful procedures
Refinement of animal use-assessment and alleviation of pain and distress Paul Flecknell, reviews methods of clinical pain assessment in animals and techniques for pain alleviation.
Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals.  Table 1-1 of this resource lists examples of painful procedures or conditions by type and anatomic location.
Seminal work on rationale on reducing pain and distress to experiemntal animals. This book introduced the 3Rs.


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