‘Full publication not only saves research money but also the unnecessary use of animals’
Scientists call for better articles on animal testing
Animal research on repairing cartilage damage in joints is often incompletely reported in scientific journals. As long as we are conducting animal experiments, they should be better described, scientists insist. ‘Only then can others really do something with the results.’
Almost one and a half million people in the Netherlands suffer from wear and tear of the cartilage in the joints, or osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is also common in animals. Unfortunately, there is still no good treatment for this painful condition. What is also lacking are suitable non-animal methods to research possible treatments that stimulate cartilage repair. This is now partly done with laboratory animals, such as pigs, goats, sheep, dogs and horses.
Researchers from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Maria Fugazzola, Janny de Grauw and Daniela Salvatori, Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology, together with colleagues at Radboudumc, analysed 223 studies with large laboratory animals published worldwide between 2015 and 2020. They found that more than 90% (220 publications) provide incomplete information on anaesthesia and pain management. This does not mean that there was no good pain management, but it is problematic for three reasons: it does not account for how animal welfare was best protected, the study is less repeatable (reproducible), and it is more difficult for other researchers to build on the knowledge from the study. The review appeared in June in the professional journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage Open.
To study the repair of damaged cartilage, researchers often have to operate on the experimental animals. As in human surgery, anaesthesia and pain control are then crucial, even after surgery. In addition, details about the drugs used are important: to account for optimal animal welfare, to make the study repeatable for other researchers, and to build on the knowledge gained. After all, which anaesthetics and analgesics laboratory animals receive and how much, also affects the results of the study.
No details on anaesthesia and pain management
‘The majority of publications did not mention which analgesics and anaesthetics were used before, during and after surgery’, says Fugazzola. ‘Of the 176 studies that reported animals undergoing general anaesthesia, 30% gave no details about that anaesthesia. Also, very few gave details about analgesics and pain monitoring. By the way, this does not necessarily mean that there was not any analgesia or pain monitoring, but rather that you do not know which and how much.’
Scientists are deeply concerned about this limited reporting. De Grauw gives an example. ‘If an animal has pain in a paw after surgery, and therefore puts less strain on that paw, the recovery of the joint in that paw may be different. So you can only interpret that recovery properly with the right information about pain relief. Without that information, other scientists cannot determine whether the research findings are correct.’
The majority of publications did not mention which analgesics and anaesthetics were used before, during and after surgery
Proper compliance with ARRIVE guideline
The limited reporting of details of animal research has long been recognised. That is why in 2010, a guideline for consistent reporting of scientific animal research was drawn up, called ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments). However, compliance with the guideline is still limited. This new study now shows that most joint wear studies with large laboratory animals also fail to meet the reporting requirements of the guideline.
‘One of the quick wins is proper compliance with the ARRIVE guideline for publishing animal research’, says Henk Smid, chair of the Netherlands National Committee for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (NCad). ‘Fully publishing helps refine and reduce animal research. In this case, for anaesthesia and pain control in cartilage damage research. This can reduce or even prevent the repetition of research. And that not only saves research money, but also the unnecessary use of animals, as researcher De Grauw points out. All relevant information is then shared and follow-up studies can build on it.’
Important role for editors
The review covered publications from 2015 onwards, Smid continues: ‘The NCad regrets that the ARRIVE guideline has not yet been fully followed more than five years after publication. We see an important role for editors of scientific journals in this matter; stricter assessment of the points in the ARRIVE guideline is desirable and when a publication does not comply with this guideline, a strong comment should be made.’
Daniela Salvatori also stresses the urgent need for improvement. Researchers must report fully on their experiments so that others can actually use the results. It is high time that researchers and editors of journals became aware of this.’ De Grauw adds: ‘That will not only save a lot of research money, but also the unnecessary use of animals, as the knowledge gathered is now of limited use.’
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