The question of how animal studies should be designed, conducted, and analyzed remains underexposed in societal debates on animal experimentation. This is not only a scientific but also a moral question. After all, if animal experiments are not appropriately designed, conducted, and analyzed, the results produced are unlikely to be reliable and the animals have in effect been wasted. In this article, we focus on one particular method to address this moral question, namely systematic reviews of previously performed animal experiments. We discuss how the design, conduct, and analysis of future (animal and human) experiments may be optimized through such systematic reviews. In particular, we illustrate how these reviews can help improve the methodological quality of animal experiments, make the choice of an animal model and the translation of animal data to the clinic more evidence-based, and implement the 3Rs. Moreover, we discuss which measures are being taken and which need to be taken in the future to ensure that systematic reviews will actually contribute to optimizing experimental design and thereby to meeting a necessary condition for making the use of animals in these experiments justified.
Keywords: 3Rs; animal ethics; animal model; evidence-based preclinical medicine; experimental design; meta-analysis; systematic review; translation.
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press.