Information on Searching
Worksheet Guide and Information
This worksheet is a tool used to 1) familiarize the principal investigator with the procedure; 2) identify keywords and concepts that are important in the development of a search strategy; and 3) aid in the selection of appropriate topical databases or other on-line resources. Although this worksheet will help, it is not designed as a replacement for communication between information providers, investigators, veterinarians, and IACUC members.
Searching for possible implementation of reduction and refinement to the study is essential. The use of analgesics and analgesia, the use of remote telemetry to increase the quality and quantity of data gathered, and humane endpoints for the animals are examples of refinements. Use of shared control groups, preliminary screening in non-animal systems, innovative statistical packages, or a consultation with a statistician are examples of reduction alternatives.
Because reduction and refinement aspects of alternatives are broad and often are addressed in the methods section of studies, the search at this point is really a comprehensive look at the field of study. Keywords and concepts from the area of research are used. This in turn addresses whether the protocol unnecessarily duplicates prior research. This approach will result in a basic understanding of the research area, including the literature published in the particular field, the techniques used, and the commonly used species.
Considering replacement requires that you address potential alternatives such as cell culture, tissue culture, models, simulations, etc. This is also where you might look for any alternate animal models lower on the phylogenetic scale —fish or invertebrates, for example— that would still give you the data you need. In addition considering non-animal and alternative animal-models, the proposed animal species should also be searched.
Objectives and Endpoints:
As often required for the protocol, write-up a complete description of the proposed use of animals, including a succinct outline of the scientific plan and direction of the experiment. When doing a keyword search, the database system searches for words that appear in the title, abstract, and descriptor fields of the citation. Because the painful part of the procedure may be described in the materials and methods sections, the search should focus on the experimental endpoint or objective, in most cases. Exceptions are when methodology papers are common in the field of study (i.e., skin irritation tests, antibody production). Humane endpoints, such as indicators of pain, or euthanasia can be searched to determine when the animal should be removed from the study. While endpoints are not easily searchable, they are worth considering when reviewing the search results.
Drugs or Compounds:
List specific names of drugs you may be using for your study or as anesthetics or analgesics. (i.e. halothane, rompun, buprenorphine, etc.). Remember to include the scientific and generic name of the drugs. If you are using other compounds in your study, included them when you search the literature for drugs that may conflict or have contraindications with your area of study.
Methods and Procedures:
Providing the methods and procedures used in your animal study protocol will assist in addressing issues of refinement alternatives, such as handling techniques, restraint techniques, injection techniques, surgical procedures, etc. Identify any painful procedures, along with drugs or methods that will be used to relieve the pain. The law defines a painful procedure as one that would "reasonably be expected to cause more than slight or momentary pain or distress in a human being to which that procedure was applied." If a procedure involves pain or distress, the PI must search for an alternative and, also, consult with the attending veterinarian.
Listing terms to describe any potential alternatives you are aware of, such as in vitro, tissue culture, alternative procedures or alternative animal models, etc. is helpful in conducting the refinement alternative aspect of the search. It is also helpful in determining potential search terms to use, since these are terms outside the specific area of study.
Keywords, concepts and database selection determine the ultimate search strategy. These keywords are those that will likely be found in the title, abstract, and descriptor fields of the citation. Use as many synonyms as possible, such as "cardiac" and "heart." Include acronyms and complete spellings (i.e., "GH" and "growth hormone"). Also include all possible spellings of words. For example, "anesthesia," "anesthetic," and "anaesthesia." Include words that make the study different from other studies. This will help detect unintentional duplication as well as limit the scope of the search if the number of citations from a broader search is more than 200. All potential alternatives should be included as keywords, whether or not the researcher believes they will be useful. Using the keywords selected from your notes, put together brief strings of words so that each search set covers a separate concept. For example, the first set might include words relating to the experimental outcome, and the second set will contain words relating to the animal model. Short and simple search sentences are preferred. Considering reduction and refinement requires a search similar to the typical literature review done in preparation for a new project or scientific publication. Keywords used will help determine if there is unintentional duplication, how many animals are necessary using the proposed model, appropriate anesthetics and analgesics, and any other method of minimizing pain and distress. Since much of the refinement and reduction information will be found in the materials and methods sections, it is important for the researcher to review some of the articles that may be of interest.
Many people make the mistake of putting the term ";alternatives" in the strategy and expect to find all possible alternatives. Because alternatives is a complex concept involving refinement, reduction and replacement, this term is best used only in those areas of study where larger amounts of research have been conducted on alternatives, such as in toxicology or education. They might also end up with ";alternatives" that have nothing to do with the 3Rs.
Considering replacement requires a search that should include keywords for potential alternatives such as "vitro," "culture," or "simulation." The word "alternative" may also be included here. The selected animal model, other species, and the word "model" will help retrieve animal and non-animal models as potential alternatives.
Search strategies for research, teaching, or testing protocols differ. For example, a teaching protocol might include keywords such as "teach," "educate," or "instruct," while a testing protocol could include "safety," ";efficacy," or "test".
NOTE: It is very important to realize that stringing together keywords on one line (i.e., dogs or cats and cardiac or thoracic and stent or device and alternative) does not create a proper search strategy and results in a poor search with inaccurate results. Boolean operators and individual database vagaries require familiarity or professional librarian assistance.
The worksheet lists many of the most useful databases for biomedical research topics. Although there is some overlap in journals and other publications covered by the databases, each database is unique; each indexes a unique set of informational resources. Several of the core databases should be searched in order to conduct a comprehensive literature search. Keep in mind the type of protocol when choosing databases. An education protocol, for example, should include ERIC; a protocol involving testing toxic effects of compounds should include TOXNET and RTECS. There are many other specific databases available online — both free and subscription based.
Years of Coverage
Years of coverage. When a database is chosen on CD-ROM, the World Wide Web, or on a multi-database system, the publication years covered are listed near the title of the database. The searcher should record the years included in the search based on database coverage or the years selected by the searcher within the search strategy (i.e., 1988-2005).
It is important to become familiar with the informational resources, databases, and services available at your institution in order to most effectively perform an alternatives search. The institution's librarian or information specialist can help with this and should be consulted.
A written narrative is required, one that evaluates the search results and assesses the alternative possibilities. It should support the decisions to both use and to not use available alternatives. Be sure to address refinement and reduction alternatives, not just replacement.
Other Lists of Databases
For additional information or assistance:
- Sample searches, methods and guidelines, training and education, databases, organizations, and other resources that can assist in understanding alternatives, finding alternatives and completing the alternatives search.