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Finding Alternatives to Animal Research


This page is for UVa researchers whose research protocols require them to use animals and who wish to meet the information requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, which is a federally-mandated requirement. Investigators performing procedures that are painful or distressful to an animal need to demonstrate that alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary pain or distress to the animals have been considered and that activities do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments. A thorough literature search regarding alternatives meets this Federal mandate. 

"Information Requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, Final Rules and Regulations," Federal Register, Vol 54 (168), August 31, 1989:
"The principal investigator must provide a written narrative of the sources, such as Biological Abstracts, Index Medicus, the Current Research Information Service (CRIS), and the Animal Welfare Information Center that is operated by the National Agricultural Library. We believe that in fulfilling this requirement Committee members will discuss these efforts with the principal investigator in reviewing the proposed activity. We also believe that considerations of alternatives will be discussed during Committee meetings where proposed activities are presented for approval, and made part of the meeting minutes..."

Preparing Your Search Strategy

The USDA's Animal Care Policy Manual, Policy #12, "Written Narrative for Alternatives to Painful/Distressful Procedures" [March 25, 2011]:

"...APHIS continues to recommend a database search as the most effective and efficient method for demonstrating compliance with the requirement to consider alternatives to painful/distressful procedures."

Items required by Policy #12 (for the "minimal written narrative"):

  • Names of the databases searched
  • Date the search was performed
  • Time period covered by the search
  • Keywords and/or the search strategy used
  • A brief description of why alternatives are or are not available

STEP 1: Have a clear understanding of the objectives and methods of the proposed study.

You have to know why the procedure is being performed and what the expected outcome is.

STEP 2: Choose appropriate databases based upon the protocol.

Click here for a list of databases.

STEP 3: Develop the literature search strategy.

  • Use the 3Rs as a guide.
  • Examine the literature closely related to the proposed study for refinements to the proposed methods or models that reduce the number of animals used, and to see if the proposed work duplicates previously published experiments.
  • Replacement: alternative animal and non-animal models should be considered.

STEP 4: Execute the search.

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, include 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.


The phrase "animal testing alternatives" is used as an indexing term by AGRICOLA, MEDLINE, and other databases but using the term alternative or alternatives as part of the strategy is not helpful.

Selected Alternatives Keywords

  • animal model
  • animal testing alternative
  • vitro (methods, model, technique)
  • culture (cell, tissue, organ)
  • isolated (cell, tissue, organ)
  • model
  • simulate
  • simulator
  • computer
  • software
  • interactive
  • digital image
  • virtual (surgery, reality)
  • video (disc, display)
  • mannequin (manikin)
  • mathematical model
  • cadaver
  • train, educate, teach
  • welfare, pain, stress, distress
  • method, behavior
  • environment, enrichment


AWIC's Alternatives & Searches

AWIC's Sample Search Strategies

If you need assistance in performing a literature search to find alternatives to animal research, contact Inhye Kim Son at 924-0057 or e-mail


  • 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.
  •  ALTBIB: Resources for Alternatives to the Use of Live Vertebrates in Biomedical Research and Testing.  Contents are a subset of MEDLINE records. 
  • 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.
  • MEDLINE (OVID) Entire MEDLINE database. Covers over 3,000 journals from 1948 to the present.
  • PubMED Free search service to access over 9 million citations in Biomolecular 3-D Structures, Complete Genomes, MEDLINE, pre-MEDLINE, GenBank DNA Sequences, GenBank Protein Sequences, and other related databases. Access to full-text journal articles is provided via links to participating publishers.
  • 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. The WOS databases include bibliographic and citation information for articles from over 5,700 science and engineering journals, 1,700 social sciences journals, and 1,100 arts and humanities journals.
  • Full list of the Library subscribed databases