FEB 04, 2016 12:00 PM PST

What is needed for optimal experimental design and how this might be taught to laboratory animal scientists

  • Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester
      Dr Fry was Chief Inspector of the UK Animal Scientific Procedures Inspectorate until his retirement in 2008, and since then has had an honorary position at the University of Manchester. Before joining the Inspectorate he was a senior medical academic, but his teaching included elementary statistics for medical students, with the challenge to make the subject interesting and accessible to those with a variety of backgrounds. As an inspector his work involved assessing proposals for 5 year programmes of animal experiments in many different fields and inspecting the experiments and animals on site, as well as advising government on biomedical issues and promoting the application of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) in animal-based research and testing. His specialist interest was experimental design. He was on the ECVAM working group on reduction, and is on the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) Reduction Steering Committee, and the UK National Centre for the 3Rs Experimental Design Working Group. Since retiring his publications include a number on experimental design and he has run or helped run workshops on experimental design in the UK, in several European countries, in Taiwan, China and South Korea, and in Canada and the USA. He has been a tutor on all the experimental design schools run by FRAME and on an MSc module on experimental design at Manchester University. He has contributed to every World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences since 1999, and ran a satellite workshop on experimental design for the 2011 Congress.


    Optimising experimental design needs a sound understanding of basic principles and a good appreciation of a range of designs and when to use them.  More than ten years ago it was clear that among scientists using laboratory animals there was a widespread lack of recognition of the importance of valid comparisons and avoidance of bias, and a reluctance to use efficient designs. This has been emphasised by several publications over the last decade.  Education was seen as a key element in addressing this, but teaching experimental design is different from teaching statistics as a subject, and where animals are used design involves more than data collection and valid comparison of experimental groups. Interactive workshops have evolved as a good way of giving researchers the knowledge, understanding and skills to optimise their design for the experimental question being addressed and the constraints within which they have to work. 

    An optimal design would be one which will produce valid results, be efficient in use of experimental material, and involve least severity for the animals used.  The talk will consider what is needed for this, as that determines the content of workshops or other types of teaching on experimental design using animals.  It will also consider the range of designs and their usage, and how researchers might acquire the skill to select an appropriate and optimal design.  To assist this, tutors could think of an educational 3Rs – repetition, recapitulation and reinforcement.   How this approach has been incorporated into an effective mix of presentations and problem solving will be illustrated.

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