Biomedical Science

How do I conduct an alternative search for IACUC protocols?


Getting Started

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.” (USDA AC Policy 12).


 Replacement —substitute animals used in the study with non-animal methods or lower organisms

 Refinement—explore techniques that would reduce pain and distress to the animals in the study

 Reduction— minimize the number of animals used in the study




Identify Key Terms and Concepts on the protocol

Collect information about:

  1. the area of study, including species and organ systems
  2. important acronyms and international spellings
  3. names of hormones, enzymes, trade names
  4. possible alternatives and other prominent scientists in the field

Develop a search strategy and refine as needed.

The search strategy consists of three types of terms.

  1. Scientific terms related to the research protocol
  2. Alternative (3Rs) terms that are relevant to the protocol.
  3. Search Logic: Boolean Operators, limits, truncations, etc.

General Tips

 Use truncation: depending upon the database system being used, symbols such as the * or ? may be used at the end of a search term to retrieve many word variations to the original term.

 Use spelling variations: when searching multiple databases, including American, British and European spellings.

 Use Boolean Logic: by using connecting words (operators) such as AND, OR, NOT the search can be expanded or narrowed

 3Rs Keyword examples

analgesic or analgesia or “pain reduction”

•anesthesia or anaesthesia or anasthesia(spelling)

•housing or facility or caging

•welfare or wellbeing or pain or distress

•technique or procedure or method or assay

•vitro or culture or artificial

•virtual or simulation or digital or interactive

•mannequin or manikin or model

•endpoint or biomarker or noninvasive

AWIC's Alternatives & Searches

AWIC's Sample Search Strategies

Select appropriate Information Resources

When searching for animal research alternatives, it is important to look in more than one database. Use the list below select at least two databases to search. PubMed, Ovid Medline, and ALTBIB are considered synonymous databases (search Medline). You may use any ONE of these. For your second database, you may select Web of Science or a specialized database depending on your topic.

DATABASES (use only one of these)

  • ALTBIB Resources for Alternatives to the Use of Live Vertebrates in Biomedical Research and Testing. Contents are a subset of MEDLINE records
  • MEDLINE (OVID) Provides access to over 28 million citations for the biomedical literature, covering biomedical research, clinical medicine, nursing, allied health, and health policy. Includes In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations
  • PubMed Provides access to over 28 million citations for the biomedical literature from MEDLINE, online books, selected publishers, and the PubMed Central repository.


  • AGRICOLA via Proquest a bibliographic database created by the National Agricultural Library and its cooperators. It includes 3 million citations to articles, government reports, theses, patents, and technical reports on food and nutrition, agricultural economics, and parasitology.
  • Altweb Contains reference material and news about all aspects of alternatives in animal research. Includes general, educational, scientific, and regulatory resources. Also contains conference proceedings, books, and reports. Current Research Information System (CRIS) Lists USDA-sponsored projects
  • Biological Abstracts
  • NORINA ( A Norwegian Inventory of Alternatives)
  • PsycINFO
  • TOXNET Access to toxicology databases including RTECS, Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances, and CCRIS, Chemical Carcinogenesis Research Information System
  • Web of Science (WOS) Containing Science Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Arts & Humanities Citation Index, WOS offers multidisciplinary searching and seamless access to cited reference searching. 


Other Resources:

AWI Enrichment and Refinement Databases:


Procedures with Care

3Rs Guide:

Conduct the search, evaluate and review relevant citations.

Principal investigators should:

  1. Complete and review the search before completing the protocol.
  2. Assess and evaluate the alternative possibilities and be prepared to support their use and non-use
  3. Provide a written narrative to the IACUC including:

               -  Search strategy

               -  Database searched

               -  Years covered by the search

               -  Date the search was performed

         d) Keep a copy of the search strategy, databases searched, and years of search. TIP: Set up alerts for searches in commonly used databases.

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