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MSK IACUC Resource Guide: Search Tips

Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is required by federal regulations for most institutions that use animals in research, teaching, and testing. The IACUC oversees the review and approval of animal use activities, and inspection of animal

Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you should be able to cut and paste the results into most databases' search boxes (e.g., PubMed)

If you need searching support, don't hesitate to reach out to Marina Chilov, Research Informationist or Ask Us.


Concepts and keywords
Instructions Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
Break the research question into concepts and put one concept in each box.

List alternatives for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words or short phrases.

Find additional terms in abstracts and summaries of the articles, books, and other sources you find during initial searches.

Search terms Search terms Search terms










Search Strategy Builder was originally created by University of Arizona Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Search Hedges

Below are examples of keyword searches (MeSH or field restrictions were not used) that can be used in PubMed to search for animal use alternatives. The searches focus on the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement). 
Note: These search concepts can be done separately or consolidated into a single search strategy. Information on animal/non animal is most likely found in Materials and Methods sections of the articles’ full text.

These suggested search concepts might be helpful should you decide to conduct the search yourself in PubMed.


"Your research area" AND (general animal alternatives terms OR specific animal replacement options).  Example:
("prostate cancer" OR "prostatic cancer") AND "immune checkpoint inhibitor*" AND ("non-animal*" OR nonanimal* OR "animal alternative*" OR "animal use alternative*" OR "animal welfare" OR "theoretical model*" OR "mathematical model*" OR simulat* OR "replacing animal*" OR “artificial intelligence” OR “machine learning”)


"Your narrow research focus" AND (intended species only OR general animal number reduction terms). To possibly find out if less animals were used in very similar to yours protocols without jeopardizing statistical power. Example:
(“oncolytic adenovirus” OR “TILT-123”) AND ("immune checkpoint inhibitor*"OR ‘Anti-PD-1”) AND (hamster* OR “less animals” OR “number of animals”)


Your intended procedures without a predefined method AND intended species + (to find the most humane method(s)). Example:
("bleeding method*" OR "bleeding technique*" OR "blood collection" OR "blood specimen collection" OR “blood sampling” OR sacrific* OR euthana*) AND (rabbit* OR lagomorpha OR “small animal*” OR “lab animal*” OR “laboratory animal*” OR “experimental animal*”)

Your intended procedure AND pain AND intended species + (to find the best pain addressing solutions for the intended species +). Example:
(Craniotomy OR craniotomies) AND (“animal welfare” OR pain OR painful* OR painless OR distress* OR anesthe* OR anaesthe* OR analge*OR anaelge*) AND (mice OR mouse OR rat OR rats OR Muridae OR murine OR “guinea pig*” OR “hamster*” OR rodent* OR “small animal*”)

Note: If the number of results is manageable, you can omit some search components and/or search more broadly.

(Craniotomy OR craniotomies) AND (mice OR mouse OR rat OR rats OR “guinea pig*” OR “hamster*” OR rodent* OR “small animal*”)

(anesthe* OR anaesthe* OR anelge* OR anaelge*) AND (“laboratory rodent*” OR “lab animal*” OR “laboratory animal*” OR “experimental animal*”)

Alternatives you know of (if any) to an intended procedure, e.g., alternatives to “multiple infusions”, AND intended species + (to find out how they worked for other researchers).
(“Infusion pump*” OR ‘injection pump*”) AND (rabbit* OR Lagomorpha OR “small animal*” OR “lab animal*” OR “laboratory animal*” OR “experimental animal*”)

Looking for Protocols?  "ADD" the following protocol concept string to your search strategy
(“search term” OR “search term” OR “search term”) AND ("Journal of visualized experiments : JoVE"[Journal] OR "Nature protocols"[Journal] OR "Nature methods"[Journal] OR "Cold Spring Harbor protocols"[Journal] OR "Methods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.)"[Journal] OR "Methods in molecular medicine"[Journal] OR "Methods in cell biology"[Journal] OR "Methods in enzymology"[Journal])