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  1. Good Science Digest

  2. Apr 5, 2024

Physicians Committee Recommends Important Changes to Advance Nonanimal Research at NIH

lab scientists
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When health researchers apply for funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), its Center for Scientific Review oversees activities that aim for fair, expert, and timely scientific review to ensure that the agency funds the most promising research. In March, on behalf of the Coalition to Illuminate and Address Animal Methods Bias (COLAAB), the Physicians Committee submitted a public comment making important recommendations on actions the Center can take to eliminate review-related barriers facing researchers who use nonanimal approaches.

Momentum toward human-centered, nonanimal research at the NIH has been growing steadily. In 2022, after 18 months of pressure from the Physicians Committee, an NIH advisory group was established to help the agency catalyze the development and use of novel alternative methods—nonanimal methods that more accurately model human biology. In October 2023, we provided 21 pages of input to aid the group’s efforts. And in February 2024, after the group released its final set of recommendations to the agency, NIH Director Dr. Monica Bertagnolli announced that the agency had accepted them, making a commitment to investing in these powerful nonanimal approaches.

One of the group’s recommendations was about the need to train reviewers of grant applications to better evaluate nonanimal research—acknowledging that scientific reviews can be impacted by unfair preferences for animal-based methods or a lack of appropriate expertise in nonanimal methods, making it harder for researchers who use nonanimal methods to secure funding.

Building on the group's recommendation to train reviewers to evaluate nonanimal methods, we encourage the NIH to:

  • Assess animal methods bias frequency and impact
  • Train reviewers how to identify and mitigate animal methods bias
  • Broaden the pool of nonanimal method expertise available for review
  • Create nonanimal-specific funding streams
  • Encourage reporting of incidences of animal methods bias

The Physicians Committee and the COLAAB continue to work with the NIH, scholars of peer review bias, nonanimal researchers, and other important stakeholders to uncover the impacts of animal methods bias and develop solutions to advance ethical and effective nonanimal research.

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