Alternatives to Animal Research During ANU Campus Closure

The COVID-19 shutdown is likely to have significantly interrupted a number of projects for Honours and HDR students, especially projects that involved laboratory based animal work. The links in the right-hand sidebar include a number of useful resources and links on animal welfare and research during the coronavirus period. This webpage introduces some ideas for home-based research projects along with relevant resources.

Systematic Reviews

The NHMRC states that “systematic review of animal-based studies should be considered where appropriate” to replace the use of animals in the Best Practice Methodology in the Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. They may also complement current animal based projects and minimise unnecessary duplication of studies.

  • A useful starting point is this online short course run by SYRCLE that introduces the concepts and methodology behind systematic reviews specific to animal based work.
  • The CAMARADES Systematic Review Facility is a free-to-use online platform for researchers to perform systematic review and meta-analysis of animal studies. They also provide information about systematic reviews on their website.
  • You can register systematic reviews of animal research related to human health on PROSPERO. Registration of systematic reviews facilitates open science and prevents duplication of work. (Guidance document)

If you are aiming to collate data from a Systematic Review using meta-analysis, then the ANU Statistical Consulting Unit (SCU) can assist with planning and designing your review. The SCU can also provide advice on narrative reviews, which may help you find more information on a particular topic.

If a systematic review of a specific research question may be a suitable alternative for your project, there are a number of ANU contacts who are available to assist further with your project plans – see the Questions? section.

In Silico (computer) models

Computer models can simulate human biology, progression of diseases, and predict how likely a substance is hazardous. Although modelling may not be able to replace research in whole body systems or complex reactions and processes, the possibility of use in preliminary work as proof of concept or development of new techniques could be explored. Brett Lidbury is also able to assist with in silico work (see the Questions? Section).

Examples of in silico methods:

  • Quantitative structure-activity relationships (QSARs) are computer-based techniques that estimate a substance’s likelihood of being hazardous based on its similarity to existing substances and our knowledge of human biology. 
    • QSAR toolbox is a free software application that can be used for this.
    • QSAR4U lists additional tools and approaches in this area.
  • Examples of in silico services offered by Cyprotex.

In Vitro models

It may be worthwhile investigating the suitability of these non-animal based alternatives for future work.

Training Opportunities

There are a number of great online resources available. The ANU Veterinary Services team can assist you further if you have a specific interest.

  • Canadian Council on Animal Care online training modules
  • All JoVE Education videos are being offered as free access until June 15
  • This may also be a good time to review your knowledge of project and statistical design. You can download software and instructions for G*Power, a free program for statistical power analysis, to assist with this. Alternatively, you can contact the ANU Statistical Consulting Unit at

Project Review and Reproducibility

This may also be a good time to review your animal-based work and the data you are collecting and intending to report on. Ensuring your work is reproducible and reported accurately is important for publishing in high impact journals and to assist with improving translation of work to human disease.

  • If you are planning new work we strongly suggest referring to the PREPARE guidelines, which include a checklist of items to consider when preparing a new research program.
  • Another useful resource is the NC3Rs Experimental Design Assistant (EDA), which is a free resource to help design robust experiments.
  • Referring to the ARRIVE guidelines can give you a good indication of whether you have collected all the relevant information for your work to be ready for publishing.


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