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Home No. 15: Why Does IACUC Require Search of Two Databases?

Jul 19

No. 15: Why Does IACUC Require Search of Two Databases?

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Research Compliance

Why Does IACUC Require Search of Two Databases?

Reader Question: My IACUC application requires me to search two databases. Is there a reason for this? What should I search besides Pubmed?

Expert comments:

The Animal Welfare Act (Sect. 13,a,3,B), requires the IACUC to assure that “the principal investigator has considered alternatives” and “has provided a written narrative description of the methods and sources … used to determine that alternatives were not available.” Many institutions expand this commitment to species not covered by the AWA (e.g., mice, rats, fish), and interpret “methods and sources” (note plurals) to imply that the PI must consult more than one.

As Pubmed continues to grow, incorporating more databases, you might question the value of finding another database to search. You might convince your IACUC to drop that requirement, or go through the motions of finding a separate database. But, speaking of alternatives, here’s one for you to consider: Understand why this requirement is there, and address it sensibly.

As a principal investigator, you’re an expert in your field. You’re on guard against accidentally duplicating existing work. You search for the best way of doing your science. How do you stay current? You need to tell the IACUC how you know what you know.

It’s easy to tell the IACUC about your Pubmed searches — they definitely give you information about unnecessary duplication, and some about refinements and non-animal alternatives.

But you also gained knowledge from conferences and study sections you attended, and consultations with colleagues. You need to tell your IACUC about these — and, according to USDA, do so in enough detail that they know to whom you spoke, when you spoke to them, and the subject. (Check out the USDA guideline on this at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/policy/policy12.pdf)

Do you stop there, or do you also look at commercial search engines, which often are better for finding "unpublished" information? If you do use them, then list that on your IACUC form1.

USDA believes that database searching is most efficient and most effective. I’m not convinced, though it is certainly part of your ongoing quest for the most humane animal research.

For example, you plan to generate transgenic mice via embryo transfer. You should be assuring your IACUC that you’ve searched for humane refinements, and for ET surgeries that means not just using the best surgical approach, anesthetics, and analgesics, but also that surgery is the only way to do this.

Search for mouse “embryo transfer” alternatives in Pubmed, and you’ll get one hit (not a useful one). Google scholar gives you 5,720. Change that to mouse “embryo transfer” surgery and Pubmed gives you 230. That second Pubmed search and the Google search include the sole paper I know of evaluating non-surgical ET in mice2.

Of course, I found it in my 5700 Google "hits" only because I already knew it was there, not by sifting through all of them. I knew it because of a conference I’d attended and a list-serve I read.

So, there’s lots of info out there, and an expert scientist should know the myriad ways of finding it — that real-life search for knowledge is what you should be describing to your IACUC, not some pro forma search of two databases.

1. Carbone L. Justification for the Use of Animals. In: Silverman J, Suckow MA, and Murthy S editors. The IACUC Handbook, 2nd edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

2. Green M, Bass S, Spear B. 2009. A device for the simple and rapid transcervical transfer of mouse embryos eliminates the need for surgery and potential post-operative complications. Biotechniques 47:919-924.

Expert comments by Larry Carbone, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACLAM, senior veterinarian and associate director, Lab Animal Resource Center, University of California-San Francisco.

Comments (3)
Associate Professor
written by Juan Carlos Marvizon, July 09, 2010
The rule was made by politicians, not by scientists. It follows the same logic as other decisions in politics. Probably some Congressman thought that being tough on scientists that do animal research would increase his chances for re-election.
written by Anonymous, July 22, 2010
IACUCs must look at the intent, not letter of the law. Usually that means going above a written mandate. However, in this instance, I do not believe the intent was for 2 or more sources (databases). The intent was as Dr. Carborne has stated - what do you know and have you used a good faith effort to find alternatives.
A perfunctory requirement
written by Bob Rubin, July 22, 2010
Dr. Carbone and some IACUC members (usually non-scientists) take the requirement for data base searches for alternatives to using animals in research way too seriously. Certainly for protocols that derive from funded grants subjected to peer review, the P.I. has most likely undertaken a thorough literature search, and the scientific justification for using animals has already been vetted by several levels of grant reviewers. While IACUC committees may feel empowered by the AWA to require a more thorough justification, it is unlikely that such searches would change the experimental design or number of animals, let alone replacing animals with cell lines or computer models. A P.I. can always explain why apparently duplicative prior studies are considered anything from irrelevant to just not quite the same as the planned experiments, and it nearly impossible for an IACUC member to challenge this conclusion. This well-intentioned but naïve literature search requirement comes way too late in the process of designing experiments and so winds up being purely perfunctory -- that’s how the applicant and the IACUC should deal with it.

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