The exercise consisted of: 1) a short survey to acquire baseline data on current practices regarding the conduct of animal studies, 2) a series of presentations for promoting awareness and providing advice and practical tools for improving experimental design, and 3) a follow-up survey 12 mo later to assess whether practices had changed. The surveys were compulsory for responsible investigators ( n = 16; paired data presented). Other investigators named on animal ethics applications were encouraged to participate (2017, total of 36 investigators; 2018, 37 investigators). The major findings to come from the exercise included 1) a willingness of investigators to make changes when provided with knowledge/tools and solutions that were relatively simple to implement (e.g., proportion of responsible investigators showing improved practices using a structured method for randomization was 0.44, 95% CI (0.19; 0.70), P = 0.003, and deidentifying drugs/interventions was 0.40, 95% CI (0.12; 0.68), P = 0.010); 2) resistance to change if this involved more personnel and time (e.g., as required for allocation concealment); and 3) evidence that changes to long-term practices (“habits”) require time and follow-up. Improved practices could be verified based on changes in reporting within publications or documented evidence provided during laboratory visits. In summary, this exercise resulted in changed attitudes, practices, and reporting, but continued follow-up, monitoring, and incentives are required. Efforts to improve experimental rigor will reduce bias and will lead to findings with the greatest translational potential.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY The goal of this exercise was to encourage preclinical researchers to improve the quality of their cardiac and metabolic animal studies by 1) increasing awareness of concerns, which can arise from suboptimal experimental designs; 2) providing knowledge, tools, and templates to overcome bias; and 3) conducting two short surveys over 12 mo to monitor change. Improved practices were identified for the uptake of structured methods for randomization, and de-identifying interventions/drugs.
Listen to this article's corresponding podcast at https://ajpheart.podbean.com/e/experimental-design-survey-training-practical-tools/ .