Searching for Alternatives to Painful Procedures and the Animal Welfare Act


The Animal Welfare Act requires investigators to examine alternatives to procedures that may cause more than slight pain to the animals used and to provide a written narrative of the methods and sources used to determine the availability of these alternatives, including reductions, refinements and replacements. This page offers guidance through the process of searching for alternatives.
The reference librarians at the Health Sciences Library are available to help you formulate your search for the use of alternatives. We can also perform the search for you.  
Request a search.

The Search for Alternatives

Tip Sheets & Tutorials
The Legislation
Compliance at NYMC

The Search for Alternatives

The 3 Rs These concepts should be included in your search strategy where appropriate.
The Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) outlines the 3 Rs as:

Reduction  Minimizing the number of animals used
Refinement   Using techniques and procedures to reduce pain and distress
eplacement  Substitution of animals with non-animal methods or lower organisms

The idea of reduction, refinement, and replacement originally comes from The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique by Russell and Burch.

Search Tips
AWIC outlines areas of concern and offers tips for what to include in a search. AWIC
suggests that the following information be included in your search strategies or provided to your librarian:

Description of protocol and area of study
Species being used
Organ systems involved
Acronyms (bovine somatotropin= BST)
Alternate spelling (behavior/ behaviour, hemophilia/haemophilia)
Names of hormones, enzymes, CAS#s trade names (xylazine=rompun), etc.
Prominent authors in the field, including the investigator
Is the investigator aware of any possible alternatives?
Previous searches and keywords used

AWIC Search Evaluation RED FLAGS (areas of concern)

Only 1 database was searched
Terms used were only for painful aspects
The term “alternative” was used alone with no other alternative terms
Keywords listed were not relevant to the protocol
Keywords and concepts were linked in an incorrect manner
Search doesn’t cover adequate time period (5-10 years)

Sample Search Terms
*These terms can be combined with other terms that pertain more specifically to the anticipated research. The boxes [] represent the placement of truncation symbols. Note that databases vary on their choice of truncation symbol. Use each database’s help screen to determine the appropriate symbol. PubMed and Scopus use the asterisk. Searching the term pain* would find pain, pains, painful, etc.

Reduction and Refinement

advers[]pain[], distress[], stress[], welfare
anesthe[, anasthe[], anaesthe[] tranquiliz[] analges[] sedative, anxiolytic
reduc[], refin[]
restrain[], restrict[], immobil[]
technique, method[], procedur[],assay[]
handl[], hous[], cag[] husbandry, environment[], enrich[], environmental enrichment, environmental enhancement, monitor[], device
euthanasia, euthanize[]


alternative, replac[], animal testing alternative, animal use alternative, surrogate,
algae, fungus, hydra, plant, fish, cephalopod, amphibian, reptile, insect, invertebrate, bacter[], microorganism, protozoan, yeast, isolated (cell, tissue, organ), culture (cell, tissue, organ), biopsy, autopsy, cadaver, mannequin] or manikin, model[], theoretical model[], artificial[], mathematical model[], QSAR, software, computer, expert system, video[], virtual (surgery, reality), simulat[], interactive, artificial intelligence, AI, digital imag[], technique, method[], procedur[], assay[], in vitro (AND method, model, technique)

*Search terms reproduced from the NIH, AWIC and FRAME

Things to Remember

Use more than one database
When searching on refinement, include terms for reduction of distress (housing, handling, euthanasia) not just reduction of pain
Use search terms for reduction and replacement, not just refinement
Include terms that pertain specifically to the anticipated research
Record the names of the databases used
Record the dates the searches were performed
Record the time period covered
Record the search strategies or search terms used

If you need help, contact the Reference Librarians at the Health Sciences Library


Affiliates of New York Medical College have access to proprietary resources such as Medline, Scopus, PsycInfo and others, through Health Sciences Library Databases.

Other databases that are helpful in the search for reduction, refinement, and replacement methods are:

Agricola U.S. Department of Agriculture   citations to publications encompassing all aspects of agriculture and allied disciplines, including animal sciences. Use the companion Agricola Thesaurus for Animal Use Alternatives to search for subject headings.

Alternatives in Education Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association alternatives to harming or killing for various education levels

ALTBIB: Bibliography on Alternatives to Animal Testing U.S. National Library of Medicine  a searchable bibliography designed to assist in identifying methods and procedures helpful in supporting the development, testing, application, and validation of alternatives to the use of vertebrates in biomedical research and toxicology testing.

CRIS (Current Research Information System) U.S. Department of Agriculture   the USDA’s documentation and reporting system for ongoing and recently completed research projects in agriculture, food and nutrition, and forestry.

RePORTER U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/National Institutes of Health   a database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions.

TOXNET  National Library of Medicine    a system of nine toxicology and environmental health databases. Search individually or across all databases.

Tip Sheets & Tutorials

These sites offer guidance on the process of searching for alternatives.

A step-by-step guide to systematically identify all relevant animal studies.  Leenaars, M., et al. (2012).  Laboratory Animals, 46(1), 24-31. doi:10.1258/la.2011.011087

Altweb: Search for Alternatives
  The Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing  designed to assist researchers with their literature search for alternative methods, while facilitating compliance with regulatory agencies.

AWIC (Animal Welfare Information Centre) U.S. Department of Agriculture Tips for Searching for Alternatives to Animal Research and Testing AND the Animal Welfare Brochure   these documents outline the search process and provide concise, practical search tips.

Guide to Searching for Alternatives to the Use of Laboratory Animals FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments) use the links in the side bar for guidance on search basics, term and database selection.

Searching for Alternatives to Painful Procedures Used on Research Animals  U.S. National Institutes of Health Library

The Legislation

The Animal Welfare Act 13(a)(3)(B) requires that "the principal investigator considers alternatives to any procedure likely to produce pain or distress in an experimental animal.”

Policy 12 of the Animal Care Resource Guide - Written Narrative for Alternatives to Painful Procedures explains:“Alternatives or alternative methods are generally regarded as those that incorporate some aspect of replacement, reduction, or refinement of animal use in pursuit of the minimization of animal pain and distress consistent with the goals of the research.”

Policy 11 of the Animal Care Resource Guide - Painful Procedures on the role of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) states that “The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is responsible for ensuring that investigators have appropriately considered alternatives to any procedures that may cause more than slight or momentary pain or distress.”

Title 9, Chapter 1, Section 2.31 (d)(1) of the Code of Federal Regulations says that the IACUC must ensure that the investigator:
(ii) “has provided a written narrative description of the methods and sources, e. g., the Animal Welfare Information Center, used to determine that alternatives were not available” and (iii) “has provided written assurance that the activities do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments.”

Meeting the Requirements
Further to this, Policy 12 of the Animal Care Resource Guide - Written Narrative for Alternatives to Painful Procedures
outlines that: “When a database search is the primary means of meeting this requirement, the narrative must, at a minimum, include:

1. the names of the databases searched;
2. the date the search was performed;
3. the period covered by the search; and
4. the key words and/or the search strategy used.

It also stipulates that “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.”

If an alternative is found, the policy explains that ”If a database search or other source identifies a bona fide alternative method (one that could be used to accomplish the goals of the animal use proposal), the written narrative should justify why this alternative
was not used.”

Compliance at NYMC

NYMC Office of Research Administration Participates in the activities of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee to ensure institutional compliance with regulations regarding the care and use of laboratory animals.

NYMC Policy & Procedure for Vertebrate Animals

Approval by the Animal Care and Use Committee is required before animals may be used in research or teaching; federal and other agencies require certification of this approval in applications. The College form reflects federal requirements, for example, information regarding an investigator's search for an alternative to the use of live vertebrate animals. Questions may be directed to Catharine Crea, Associate Dean, Director, Office of Research Administration (914-594-4480).

NYMC Office of Research Administration Internal College Forms




Updated by D. Crooke 2/27/2012

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