A Gold Standard Publication Checklist to Improve the Quality of Animal Studies, to Fully Integrate the Three Rs, and to Make Systematic Reviews More Feasible
Carlijn R. Hooijmans, Marlies Leenaars and Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga
Systematic reviews are generally regarded by professionals in the field of evidence-based medicine as the highest level of medical evidence, and they are already standard practice for clinical studies. However, they are not yet widely used nor undertaken in the field of animal experimentation, even though there is a lot to be gained from the process. Therefore, a gold standard publication checklist (GSPC) for animal studies is presented in this paper. The items on the checklist have been selected on the basis of a literature analysis and the resulting scientific evidence that these factors are decisive in determining the outcome of animal studies. In order to make future systematic reviews and meta-analyses of animal studies possible, to allow others to replicate and build on work previously published, diminish the number of animals needed in animal experimentation (reduction), improve animal welfare (refinement) and, above all, improve the quality of scientific papers on animal experimentation, this publication checklist needs to be used and followed. We have discussed and optimised this GSPC through feedback from interviews with experts in the field of animal experimentation. From these interviews, it became clear that scientists will adopt this GSPC when journals demand it. The GSPC was compared with the current instructions for authors from nine different journals, selected on the basis that they featured a high number of publications on animal studies. In general, the journals’ demands for the description of the animal studies are so limited that it is not possible to repeat the studies, let alone carry out a systematic review. By using the GSPC for animal studies, the quality of scientific papers will be improved. The use of the GSPC and the concomitant improvement in the quality of scientific papers will also contribute to decreased variation and increased standardisation and, as a consequence, a reduction in the numbers of animals used and a more reliable outcome of animal studies. It is of major importance that journal editors become convinced of and adopt these recommendations, because only then will scientists follow these guidelines to the full extent.