Ever figured out a clever solution to a vexing challenge that affected the rigor of your work with laboratory animals, and then thought that those solutions could improve the quality and transparency of animal research supported across NIH? Recently found yourself at virtual lab meetings brainstorming ways to facilitate translating the findings from your animal study to human biology and disease? Questioned the status quo on how the research culture drives the choice of animal models and the design of experiments? Well, we want to know more.
We recently released a Request for Information (RFI) aimed at enhancing rigor, transparency, and translatability to improve biomedical and behavioral research involving animal models (NOT-OD-20-130). Your feedback is welcomed electronically here by July 31, 2020. Note: the deadline to submit comments is expected to be extended to August 21, 2020.
Research involving animal models are extremely valuable and critical for testing hypotheses about the mechanisms by which various biological factors impact the etiology and course of health and disease. To get us there, NIH seeks to achieve “reproducibility through rigor and transparency.”
We have taken several steps to underscore the importance of these precepts, but concerns persist around suboptimal study design, selection of appropriate models, and rigor of statistical design and analyses (see the 2014 National Academies workshop here for more). Moreover, as NIH support for model organism research has remained relatively stable over time (as noted in this 2016 post), addressing these issues is key to proper stewardship of taxpayer funds. And, as my colleague, Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, wrote in her blog in February following a related workshop on non-human primate models, “rigor and transparency necessitates data sharing yet there are challenges…[but] rigorous and reproducible science is part of a virtuous learning cycle.”
A working group of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director, of which I am a member, is leading this RFI effort. They presented some preliminary thoughts at the June 2020 meeting on how NIH can improve the scientific rigor, reproducibility, translatability, and transparency of the research it supports. For instance, they discussed the benefits and burdens of preregistering certain animal studies, potential financial implications for grants, and training needs to ensure animal studies are rigorous and transparent. To get at the importance of selecting appropriate models, discussion has focused around ways to optimize the relevance of the studies to human biology and disease. And, they noted we should look at the underlying state of the science and research culture to better understand what incentives or disincentives influence research using animals along with the importance of educating all levels of scientists in good research practice.
So, turning back to the RFI, the working group will consider your comments as they develop their final report (expected in December). We look forward to hearing from you and your colleagues on ways we can strengthen the rigor of NIH-supported animal research, further assuring that future NIH supported activities contribute to our understanding of the complexities and the spectrum of the diseases and disabilities that affect human health.