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Alternatives Help

More detailed information concerning Alternatives: These comments are adapted from remarks made by Dr. James Owiny, PhD and the Johns Hopkins University IACUC Web Site, with the permission from Johns Hopkins University.

The United States Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations1 and Animal Care Factsheet2 requires that procedures involving animals avoid or minimize discomfort, distress and pain to the animals consistent with sound research design. Furthermore, principal investigators are required to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to animals and to provide a written narrative description of methods and sources (e.g. the Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC)3 ), used to determine that alternatives were not available. Procedures to be carried out as a part of standard veterinary care need not be justified in the alternatives dialogue. These requirements are explained in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policies 11 and 124. The US PHS policy requires compliance with the AWA and the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals5.

For procedures in D and E, the animals selected for a procedure should be of an appropriate species and quality and the minimum number required to obtain valid results. Methods such as mathematical models, computer simulations, and in vitro biological systems should be considered whenever possible. Proper use of animals including avoidance or minimization of discomfort, distress and pain consistent with sound scientific practices is imperative. Faculty, students, and staff should consult Essentials for Animal Research6, a useful resource for investigators.

Principal Investigators often ask about the requirement to search for alternative procedures to those involving alleviated or unalleviated pain or distress. The AWA requires the Principal Investigator to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause pain or distress to animals and to provide a written narrative of the methods used and sources consulted to determine the availability of alternatives. Alternatives should be considered during planning of the animal use proposal and should form part of the routine scientific literature search and not be separate from it. If a bona fide alternative method is identified, the written narrative should justify why this alternative was not used.

Alternatives should aim at avoiding or minimizing discomfort, distress or pain without compromising research goals using the so-called "3 Rs". The 3 Rs include: replacement with non-animal systems when possible, reduction in the number of animals required to obtain scientifically valid data through better experimental design and refinement techniques that decrease or eliminate pain or distress. All three approaches should be considered.

This information enables the IACUC to determine that a reasonable and good faith effort was made to determine the availability of alternatives or alternative methods. The federal requirements can be met by any of the following:

  • Database search (consult more than one major database): include names of databases searched, date the search was performed, period covered by the search, keywords and/or the search strategy used.
  • Attendance at colloquia or conferences where animal alternatives were a subject of the meeting.
  • Consultation with subject experts besides the PI, include consultant's name, qualifications and date and content of the consult.

An example of the information required can be found at:
Alternatives to Animal Use

Animal Welfare Information Center3 (AWIC), an information service of the National Agricultural Library, was created specifically by Congress to provide information on ways to minimize pain and distress. AWIC can formulate search strategy, select key words and databases, access unique databases, train in conducting effective alternatives searches, and perform no-cost or low-cost electronic database searches. AWIC has developed an anesthesia and analgesia database that is now available on ALTWEB.

Selected Alternatives Keywords suggested by AWIC:

Animal model(s) Animal testing alternative? Alternative?
Artificial Vitro(method,model,technique) Culture(cell,tissue,organ)
Isolated(cell,tissue,organ) Model? Plastinat?
Invertebrate? Fish?,cephalopod? Amphibian?,reptile?
Simulat?(simulation(s)) Simulator? Computer?
Software Interactive Digital image? Virtual(surgery, reality)
Video?(disc,display) Manneqin?(manikin) Mathematical model?
Cadaver? Anesthe?,anasthe? Analges?,sedative,anxiolytic
Euthanas? Handl?(handling) Housing,facility?,caging
Train?,educat?,teach? Welfare,pain,stress,distress Assay?,technique?
Method? Environ?,enrich?  

Other sources for alternatives searches are: the University of California Center for Animal Alternatives and the Antibody Resource Page.