It’s been a while since we last reported on the reproducibility crisis in preclinical research, but it’s not because the problem has been getting better.
It is estimated that between 51% and 89% of animal studies are not reproducible—in large part because important details regarding the methodology researchers use in their experiments are not included in scientific publications. And a recent article in Science indicated that it has been surprisingly challenging to solve this problem of sloppy reporting on animal experiments.
In 2010, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) tackled this issue head on and developed specific guidelines to help improve the standard of reporting of research using animals. The guidelines were created to ensure that research findings are communicated to the scientific community in an accurate and transparent way and include recommendations on how to report on study design, experimental procedures, animal usage and more.
These guidelines were endorsed by over 1,000 scientific journals and dozens of funding agencies. However, studies have shown that even in journals which endorse the guidelines, there has been almost no improvement in how the animal experiments are being reported.
Maybe researchers are not complying with the guidelines because they are not aware of them. Would we see a significant change if scientists who were submitting a manuscript were specifically told to review the guidelines?
The answer, unfortunately, appears to be no. A recent study showed that providing the researchers with the guidelines before they submitted their manuscripts led to slight improvement in two categories covered by the guidelines, but none of the others.
It’s one thing for scientific journals to encourage their authors to comply with guidelines; it’s another to have editors at the journals ensure that authors comply. But of course, ensuring that authors are compliant takes work, both for the authors themselves and for the journals. The NC3Rs will hold another workshop dedicated to how to tackle this issue later this year.
From NAVS’ perspective, these types of studies bring to light a more pressing issue: whether the research community should have the luxury of continuing to work with animal models at all. Issues with animal experiments extend beyond study design and transparency, and include inherent problems, such as extrapolating data across species. If the scientific community really wants to improve human health and well-being through research, then more effort needs to be made on developing and using human-relevant non-animal models that have a higher probability of improving human health.
Source: Enserink, M. “Sloppy reporting on animal studies proves hard to change.” Science, Sept. 29, 2017