New work published in PLOS Biology by Professor Malcolm Macleod and Dr Emily Sena from the CAMARADES group at the University of Edinburgh shows continuing problems with the quality of animal research, based on information included in papers on the use of approaches to minimise subjective bias. The study demonstrated that high impact journals and high ranked institutions were not “immune” to these problems. The fact that strategies to avoid subjective bias, like randomisation and blinding, were not reported in publications does not necessarily mean that they were not done in practice. However, studies across a range of different therapeutic areas show that those papers that do not report such measures overestimate the efficacy of treatment being tested in animals. The latest example also published today, examining the preclinical evidence behind the anti-cancer drug sunitinib, highlights further the impact that poor experimental design and reporting have.
Why is this important?
Subjective bias threatens the validity and robustness of findings from animal studies. Improving the design and reporting of these studies maximises the utility of the information obtained and reduces the chance that animals will be used in studies that can never truly add to the knowledge base.
What is the NC3Rs doing?
This is a really important issue for the NC3Rs and we have been working to raise awareness of the problems across the scientific community, from funders to institutions and journals. We have published the ARRIVE guidelines which are intended to improve the reporting of animal research and are now adopted by close to 500 journals and all of the UK major funding bodies. We have also been working to support scientists improve the design of the animal experiments and have recently launched an interactive online tool that guides researchers through the process, helping them to select the right number of animal and reduces subjective bias.
The CAMARADES group is funded by the NC3Rs to assist other scientists in reviewing data from animal experiments to enhance translation to the clinic.
Listen to Dr Kathryn Chapman from the NC3Rs on Radio 4’s Today programme (01:20 into recording).
Read our blog on the development of the Experimental Design Assistant.