Development of 3R databases

This is a text version of a lecture held in Copenhagen on October 7th 2003 by Adrian Smith in connection with the receipt of The Nordic Prize for Alternatives to Animal Experiments.

This presentation provides a brief history of information on alternatives databases, gives some examples, and outlines some of the challenges when searching for alternatives to the use of animals in research and teaching. 'Alternatives' are defined here as all the three R's of Russell & Burch (1959): Replacement, Reduction and Refinement.

Until the mid 1990's there were few sources of information on databases that addressed the three R's.

The first European initiative to collect such information and make it readily available, was the ECVAM workshop in Neubiberg, Munich in September 1996. Information experts constructed an overview of the approximately 20 databases in existence at that time, categorised them according to their field and made this information available on the Internet. This overview has since been updated, and several other similar sites have been constructed (e.g. the resources at AltWeb and FRAME.
In 1997, the international Altweb project (Alternatives to Animal Testing on the Web) was launched. Altweb has greatly contributed to the dissemination of information on existing databases via the Internet. Altweb is a clearinghouse of information and news on the three R's. It has also taken initiative to develop new resources, such as the Pain Management Database, in collaboration with the Animal Welfare Information Centre in Beltsville, Maryland, USA. This database includes over 10,000 peer-reviewed citations from more general literature databases such as MEDLINE, Agricola and AGRIS. It covers all relevant laboratory animal species and includes abstracts with information on dose of pain-killers and possible side-effects.
In many areas of the three Rs it is a distinct advantage if database compilers cooperate or cross-reference their material. A good example of this is seen within the field of information on alternatives to animals in education. The compilers of the NORINA database, which provides information on as many alternatives as possible, at all phases from junior school to University, cooperated actively with the compilers of the EURCA database which offered peer-reviewed information on specialist alternatives for use in higher education, until the EURCA project was discontinued in 2012. Furthermore, items cited in NORINA that can be loaned from animal welfare organisations are flagged with direct links to the organisation's website.   Loan schemes are offered by, among others, InterNICHE and the Humane Society of the United States. The advantage of this type of cooperation is obvious within the field of education.   Many of the earliest animal alternatives were very simple, qualitative, simulations of complex biological processes, and some of these gave the impression that 'alternatives' were too simple to be of use in higher education. Nowadays, many alternatives are extremely complex and are based on results from real studies in animals. However, many companies still cover a very small segment of the market and produce few alternatives. Without some form of database, teachers and students seeking alternatives will have great problems in finding adequate information.


One of the problems faced when searching for information on the Internet, is that much of the material is not accessed by standard search engines. This hidden section of the Internet, also called The Deep Web, includes documents where the text is concealed within a format not accessible to the search engines, such as information on company intranets, and text inside password-protected documents or databases. It has been estimated that over 50% of the information in the Deep Web is contained within such databases and that the Deep Web may be 1,000 times larger than the Internet that is accessed by standard search engines.


This Centre has written a comprehensive paper entitled 'The use of databases, information centres and guidelines when planning research that may involve animals': Smith AJ & Allen T (2005), Animal Welfare, 14, 347-359. The paper is copyright UFAW but it is available (with permission from UFAW) here. The information in the paper has been updated and converted into a database, called 3R Guide.
This page was updated on 05 July 2023

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