Conducting IACUC Application Literature Searches

Conducting the IACUC Application Literature Searches
Updated 10/30/08, Kevin Messner ([email protected])
Purpose: Most IACUC applications require the investigator to conduct two
types of literature searches: a search to show non-duplication of the
proposed research (Part I.B. of the application), and a search for alternative
procedures (Part I.C.). This guide provides advice on conducting an effective
and acceptable search for an IACUC application.
Selecting Databases
Both searches (non-duplication and alternatives) need to be conducted in two
literature databases each, i.e., a total of at least four searches should be
represented in the application. Note that teaching protocols only require
the alternatives search.
Agricola must be used as one of the databases for the alternatives search
(as this database systematically covers veterinary literature and literature
on animal care and alternatives research). Agricola is also acceptable for
the search for non-duplication, although for biomedical topics there are
usually better options.
Other databases often used for either type of search include (in rough
order of usefulness): PubMed (aka the MEDLINE database, highly
recommended for “biomedical” research, and any protocols involving
surgeries), Web of Science, BIOSIS (best for wild animal studies),
PsycINFO (for psychology and neuroscience), or SciFinder (for
biochemistry; note that SciFinder searches both the MEDLINE and
Chemical Abstracts databases).
At present, Google Scholar cannot be used as one of the databases, because
the contents (exactly which journals, etc., are being searched) of Google
Scholar are not publicly known and searches are not consistently
reproducible. Academic Search Complete is also not recommended, as it is
too general and not deep enough in bioscience coverage.
Conducting the Search for Non-duplication
1) Identify your search terms using one or two-word phrases. Use terms
that describe the core concepts of your work with. These will usually
the name of the subject organisms (both common and scientific
names). You may use specific species names and/or group names, e.g.
muridae, primates, or anurans.
the topic, process, or phenomenon being studied
names of particular systems, genes/proteins, being studied (be sure to
include all major synonyms, abbreviations, name variations, and gene
conditions or habitat being studied
major methodologies being used
2) Organize the terms into concepts and try to identify any additional
synonyms, connecting synonyms with “OR.” Also, if you are using Web of
Science, BIOSIS, or Agricola (not PubMed, SciFinder, or PsycINFO^),
consider whether each term has variants (e.g., a plural form) that you can
capture using a truncation symbol (e.g., weightless* will find weightless,
mouse OR mice OR mus musculus
zero gravity OR weightless* OR low earth orbit
transcrip* OR translat* OR express*
IFN OR IFNG OR IFG OR IFI OR interferon gamma OR Type II
3) Run a search on each set of synonyms representing a general concept.
Note the number of hits you get. If you get a very small number (<500), you
should probably try to think of additional synonyms.
^These databases find synonyms for the user automatically.
1: mouse OR mice OR mus musculus
2: zero gravity OR weightless* OR low earth orbit
3: transcrip* OR translat* OR express*
4: IFN OR IFNG OR IFG OR interferon gamma OR
Type II interferon
At this point, you should have a search set for each of the major concepts
of your study. If some of these are small (a few hundred hits or less), you
can look through these results directly for relevant papers.
Otherwise, you’ll need to combine your concepts to find what you are looking
for. Mix and match these in ways that make sense: try them all together,
but realize that this may be too limiting. Most databases will let you run
searches using “set numbers” of results you’ve already run. Look in the
Search History for the record of search sets you’ve run:
1: mouse OR mice OR mus musculus
2: zero gravity OR weightless* OR low earth orbit
3: transcrip* OR translat* OR express*
4: IFN OR IFNG OR IFG OR interferon gamma OR
Type II interferon
1 AND 2 AND 3 AND 4
1 AND 2 AND 3
1 AND 2 AND 4
If this search produces few hits (~<50), or all irrelevant hits, combine just
some of your concepts. If you have concepts 1, 2, 3, and 4, try combining 1,
2, and 3; 1, 2, and 4; etc. You will possibly find relevant papers in one of
these broader searches which didn’t come up in the more specific search
(perhaps the more specific search happened to not use all the words you
Additional Tips:
Some databases (e.g. Web of Science) can handle only a certain
number of results at a time. If you get a result like “>100,000” in one
of your initial searches, this means the result set is incomplete (it was
too big to handle). To get a smaller set you can work with, you’ll need
to either conduct your searches a couple of times, each in a specific
date range (e.g. 1965-1990, 1991-present), or run a new single search
which combines the problem search with another one of your core
concepts, e.g.:
(mouse OR mice OR mus musculus) AND (zero gravity OR weightless*
OR low earth orbit)
If you search on phrases (e.g. “anabolic steroids”), and your initial
searches produce a small number of hits, try broadening the search,
e.g. to just “steroids.” There may be some sacrifice of precision in
order to try to capture relevant records which happen not to use a
particular phrase.
Some of your searches may retrieve large numbers of hits (>500) that
are unrealistic to read through (and saying you did read them tends to
raise a red flag with the committee reviewers). Try instead to find a
way to narrow your search.
When reading through your hits, you may also come across additional
terms that you should have included in your search. You may need to
go back and add these terms in to get satisfactory results.
If your searches consistently produce few or too many hits, it’s a good
point to check with the biology librarian.
4) Reporting results of your search
Include in your application a printout of the keyword searches you conducted
and the number of hits. (Do not include lists of the search result citations.)
Most databases have a “Search History” or similar page that will show this
list of searches conducted. It is helpful to the reviewers to circle or mark
the searches which the investigator looked at the results.
Either on this sheet or in the application, the names of the databases used
and the dates the searches were conducted must be shown.
A short written summary of the searches, addressing the searches and
focusing on any literature found which closely pertains to the proposed
research, must be provided in the application (Part 1.C.) If similar work is
found, the application must address how the proposed study is distinct from
these prior publications.
Conducting the Search for Alternatives
The intent of the alternatives searches are to address the possible
suitability of using lower organisms to address the experimental question,
and to address the availability of other possible replacements, reductions, or
refinements to the experimental procedures.
As before, identify your search terms. These will likely include the organism
(e.g. mouse) or often a broader group or organisms (It’s likely you’ll find
literature on care and handling of fish, but unlikely you’ll find such literature
specifically for rainbow trout.)
Other terms or concepts you include in your search will depend on your
experimental procedures. It is helpful to think from the animals’ “point of
view” -- what is being done to the animal that is potentially distressing or
painful? You should search for literature regarding the significant
interactions you have with the subject animals, e.g.:
Surgical procedures including anaesthesia and post-operative care
Handling, capture, transport, release of wild animals
Marking and tissue sampling
Stressful experimental treatments
Animal housing and husbandry
Methods for sacrifice and euthanasia
Additionally, there are a variety of keywords that can be used to help
identify literature on animal care and alternatives specifically. Some of
these may be appropriate to include in your search. (However, the
alternatives literature search should address the procedures of your
proposed research and not rely exclusively on these terms.) Ex.:
Animal care, alternative*, refinement*, welfare, animal test*, in vitro,
simulat*, model, cell culture, tissue culture, noninvasive, unobtrusive
As with the search for non-duplication, organize your terms into concepts,
and conduct your searches.
Report the results of the search as for the search for non-duplication. The
written summary should describe the investigator’s efforts to seek and
evaluate alternatives and refinements to the proposed procedures.
Additional Tips:
Some searches may return zero hits. In some cases this is inevitable,
but a search that consists of little but zero hit returns raises a flag.
Try to broaden the search (search for mammal* instead of mice;
surger* instead of lymphectomy). If all else fails, try the term
“animal care” along with the organism group you’re studying. This is
also a good point to check with the biology librarian.
Be on the lookout in your hit lists for additional terms, synonyms, and
concepts that you should include in your search. Terms used in the
animal care literature for these concepts may not be as familiar as
the biology terms in the non-duplication search.
The literature searches are a critical component of compliance with animal
care regulations. Conducting the searches adequately requires a systematic
approach and a sense of thoroughness, to determine with confidence
whether the proposed research complies with the standards for nonduplication and appropriate technique. Miami’s biology librarian, Kevin
Messner ([email protected]) is available at any point in the process to
advise on running the searches and help solve problems.
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