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Searching the Literature for Animal Testing Alternatives : a Tutorial

Tutorial for researching alternatives to animal research

About this Tutorial

lab mouse

A vast amount of published information exists for researchers looking for ways to reduce, refine, or replace their use of animal subjects in research. This information may be found in a number of databases and online web directories. It includes articles, books, and tools for animal and computer models, guidelines for and research into animal husbandry (including caging, handling, and blood sampling), and alternate approaches to commonly-studied diseases.


How do I do a literature search?

Searching for articles and other published literature on a topic is a multi-step process. This learning module is designed to help you perform your own searches for research alternatives.

Additionally, if you would like to meet with a librarian to discuss your search, we are more than happy to help you. Please refer to the Ask a Librarian page to ask questions or request a consultation appointment.


How do I use this tutorial?

Read each section in order, completing the self-quiz at the end of each section. When you are finished, you may choose to print out a Certificate of completion using the link at left.

Why Do a Literature Search?

You must do a specific literature search for every proposed animal research project to find all possible alternatives to using complex animals or painful/distressing procedures. New and better methods are discovered and shared every day; make sure that you make a good faith effort to find them.


A complete literature search can help you:

  • Avoid duplicated experiments 
  • Identify alternative choices of less complex animal models
  • Find alternative methods of animal care and treatment that:
    • Ensure purer results of experiments
    • Require fewer specimens or less expensive ones
    • Take less time to complete
    • Improve well-being of experimental animals

When Must you Do a Literature Search?

You should perform and record a new literature search:

  • Before you submit a new IACUC application
  • Each time you submit an application for renewal
  • Each time you submit an amendment 

You must record and update the required information each and every time.

Legal Requirements for Alternative Searching

You are legally required to perform and record an appropriate literature search when engaged in animal research.

  • Under Section 2143 of the Animal Welfare Act, the principal investigator on a research project must ensure that alternatives to painful procedures have been examined.
  • Policy 12 of the Animal Care Resource Guide (maintained by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture) clarifies the AWA provisions by outlining the following requirements for reporting literature search results - you must include:
    • The names of databases searched
    • The dates on which searches were performed
    • The timespan covered by the search
    • The keywords and/or search strategies used