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Searching for Alternatives

A guide to support searching for alternatives

Search Strategies for Alternatives

Search strategies for alternatives are frequently divided into two phases, reduction and refinement, and replacement.

Phase 1: Reduction and Refinement usually consists a generalized database search to retrieve citations relevant to the investigator's field of study. Such searches should provide information on current research, alert the investigator to whether or not they are performing duplicative studies, and possibly provide information on refining experimental techniques.  Goals are to minimize the number of animals used and to use techniques and procedures that reduce pain and distress. 

Phase 2: Replacement begins once the investigator has a basic understanding of the research, area, including the literature published in the field, the techniques used, and the commonly used species.  Goal is to substitute animal models with non-animal techniques or lower organisms whenever possible.

In searching for alternatives, multiple databases should be searched using search terms such as:

animal testing alternatives
animal use alternatives
tissue culture
cell culture
in vitro


It is important to remember that although electronic databases are powerful tools, some of the subject databases still do not cover journal articles published before the1960s. Print indexes in relevant areas are still available in the Purdue Libraries if the online version does not cover earlier years.

A source for suggested keywords to use in searching Reduction and Refinement and Replacement is: Thesaurus for Animal Use Alternatives (AWIC)

For the protocol:

  • Include the names of databases searched and years covered by the search [for example: CAB Abstracts, 1980 to current].
  • Give the date(s) on which you did the search(s).
  • In the narrative or search results section of the protocol:
    • describe what alternatives-related information you found,
    • how you are including those alternative methods, procedures, or models into the protocol, as well as
    • why you are not using others. 

Concerns may arise with a protocol if:

  • Only one database is searched. [Note: PubMed and MEDLINE are the same database just different search engines];
  • Search terms or keywords included only for painful aspects;
  • The search term "alternative" is used alone;
  • Keywords are not relevant to the protocol;
  • Keywords and concepts are linked incorrectly; or
  • An inadequate time period search (< 5 years) is searched.

Consult with a Subject-Specialist Librarian [PU Libraries] as needed.