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Research Guides

Animal Welfare & Laboratory Animal Alternatives (IACUC Searches): General Approach

Conducting literature searches required by the Animal Welfare Act and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). Identifying ways to reduce pain or distress in laboratory animals. Support for UW IACUC protocols

IACUC Protocol Searching Overview

This guide is designed to help you conduct literature searches for IACUC protocols.  Each page addresses a different aspect of this process.

Please download a 1-page PDF checklist for an overview of recommendations.

Literature Searches for Protocols Submitted to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)

Investigators are required to consider suitable alternatives to any procedures likely to cause animals pain or distress.

Investigation of suitable alternatives should address the 3 R's:

  • Reduce the number of animals used
  • Refine techniques and procedures to reduce pain or distress
  • Replace animals with non-animal or non-mammalian methods or materials

Each literature search should be conducted in at least two databases. You can accomplish this by using either:

  • Embase (which encompasses both Embase and Medline);or
  • Web of Science (a search platform) and selecting "All Databases."


A useful approach is to:

  • Focus on finding well-designed studies that are studying what you are studying in your protocol. 
  • Review these references to look for animal model refinements and other potential ways to address the 3 R's.
  • Conduct a separate search to look for (1) in vitro, in silico, or non-mammalian alternatives and/or (2) techniques for reducing pain and distress.

Overall Approach for Literature Searches

Step 1: Identify Key Concepts in Your Protocol

  • Generate a list of search terms - including synonyms - based on these key concepts.


Step 2: Select Appropriate Databases


Step 3: Develop Your Search Strategy


Step 4: Document Searches

Life Sciences Librarian

Diana Louden's picture
Diana Louden
Allen Library North

Librarian Assistance

UW librarians can help you conduct effective searches.  For assistance, please contact your library liaison, or send your question to the author of this guide.