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Performing the Required Literature Search for Alternatives to Animals Used in Research

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations require principle investigators to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals and provide a written narrative of the methods used and sources consulted to determine the availability of alternatives including refinements, reductions, and replacements.

Principle investigators must also provide written assurance that their research activities do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments.

A multiple database search is considered the most effective and efficient method for demonstrating compliance with the requirement to consider alternatives to painful/distressful procedures.

The narrative must, at a minimum include:

1.  The names of the databases searched.

2.  The date(s) the search was performed.

3.  The period covered by the search.

4.  The key words and/or the search strategy used.

 [From the Animal Care Resource Guide, Policy #12.  United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.]


The National Institutes of Health Library lists the following "Red Flags" to an INADEQUATE database search:

Only 1 database searched.

Terms only for painful aspects.

The term "alternative" used alone with no other alternative terms.

Keywords listed not relevant to protocol.

Keywords and concepts linked in an incorrect manner.

Search doesn't cover adequate time period.

Starting Points

The key parts of a literature search are: A) how you search  [forming a search strategy and choosing key words]  and  B) where you search  [which databases to use].

When you are ready to begin your search, click on the Articles and E-Resources link below.

A) How to Begin Your Search - Planning a Search and Choosing Search Terms [From the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments]

B) A guide to selecting Databases by Animal Model and Topic. [From the University of California Davis Center for Animal Alternatives Information]

Page maintained by: 
John Osinski