New Internet Search Engine for 3R’s Methods:

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In the Spotlight

New Internet Search Engine for 3R’s Methods:

Sherry Ward, Contributing Editor

Published: April 21, 2008

The Beta version of, a new Internet search engine specifically developed for locating information on replacement, reduction, and refinement (the 3Rs) alternative methods, was recently launched.

The Go3R search engine was developed by the German company, Transinsight with funding from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and technical expertise on alternative methods from the National German Centre for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Experiments (ZEBET).

Go3R is described by Transinsight as a “knowledge-based semantic search engine” for alternatives to animal experiments. The primary purpose of this new Internet tool is to assist researchers in locating information on existing alternative methods to fulfill their obligation to refrain from using animals when alternative methods are available. As indicated by Transinsight, Go3R “enables information transparency for the prevention of animal testing.”

My first approach to exploring this search engine was to take it for a test run. As I typically read instructions only as a last resort, I jumped right in to see what would be pulled up by a search of the word “eye.”

The general search retrieved 1000 article citations (the latest of 355,681 citations from PubMed), which were reduced to 13 citations after selecting the “3Rs Relevant” filter. Of these 13 citations, all 13 were from 2008, but only 4 were related to alternative eye test methods. So it looks like I need to further explore the use of the filters to optimize my search results.

A click on the “WHAT” button in the left column brings up the list of ontology terms related to my search. Following each term in brackets is the number of citations out of the original 1000 that are related to that category.

Some of the first terms on the list weren’t particularly relevant to alternative methods, but the following were then listed:

  • Substances, Preparations & Products
  • Statistics
  • Biological Material & Organisms for Animal Use Alternatives
  • Animal Species
  • Product Properties & Effects
  • Product Testing & Assessment
  • Animal Experiment
  • In Vitro Experimental Design
  • 3Rs Relevant
  • 3Rs Methods in the Life Sciences
  • Animal Care & Handling
  • In Vitro Culture Technology & Equipment
  • Validation of Test Methods
  • Toxic Actions of Substances
  • Animal Condition, Physiological or Psychological

Even more specific subcategories were available under each of these terms, and could be selected to further refine my search.

For example, under “Product Testing & Assessment” were 46 citations in the following subcategories:

  • Screening [35]
  • Risk Assessment [6]
  • Quality Control [4]
  • All of Product Testing & Assessment [46]

I selected “Validation of Test Methods” which indicated 4 relevant citations, but only one citation that was retrieved was relevant to the validation of an eye test method. It seems that even after first selecting the “3Rs Relevant” filter, that subsequent filter selections are made directly from the original 1000 citations that were identified. This prevents the loss of potentially incorrectly filtered citations, but also retains ones that are not relevant to your selection.

Anyway, I have yet to read the instructions or take a look at the “In a Nutshell” movie that is provided as “Help,” which can be accessed by clicking on the small arrow to the right of the “find it!” box. The “movie” instructions are a must view for understanding both the search strategy and what you will retrieve. For example, it explains that your first result will always contain the most recent 1000 PubMed citations unless you use the Advanced Search [ah ha! This is why everything I retrieved was from 2008!]. It also explains the origin and content of the list of terms that will appear in the left column – the ontology terms. My only problem with the movie is that my computer screen could view only part of the page being shown, and the text box that moved around the page with its very helpful explanations kept moving off my screen so that I had to search around for it at times.

Other “help” information explains an ontology-based literature search. The keyword typed into the search box is submitted to PubMed. PubMed has already indexed its papers by key terms using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) and Gene Ontology. Transinsight says they have identified background knowledge relevant to the 3Rs, so that Go3R sorts relevant information from your search into the 4 main categories: What, Who, Where, and When. Subcategories can then be accessed under each of these headings. Their conclusion is that this sorting of retrieved citations into an organized network “facilitates the finding of relevant documents significantly.”

A review by a blog that writes about new search engines was fairly positive in saying that “I’m liking this latest trend for semantically-powered health search engines. If ever there was a compelling need for Semantic Apps to help users make sense of and organize data, it’s in health. CureHunter and Go3R are two apps to look out for.”

I still have to “test” the Advanced Search function. I am generally optimistic that I will become fonder of the Go3R search engine as I become better acquainted with the search strategy. My major disappointment is the large percentage of irrelevant citations that I retrieved. Perhaps this will improve with later versions of the search engine? I was also disappointed to find that the Go3R search engine is limited to searching only PubMed. There is valuable information on alternative methods elsewhere on the Internet that would be missed by searching only PubMed. Therefore, scientists conducting searches for alternative methods to satisfy legal mandates or institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC) requirements should also examine other sources. Go3R, however, does fill an important niche in this search for information on alternative methods that is not met by any of the other resources.

AltTox is one of several websites that provides information on other sources of information on alternative methods. The primary sections of AltTox to consult for information in alternatives methods are: Informational Resources and Existing Alternatives. Both sections are located within the Toxcity Testing Resource Center.

We hope you will take some time to explore, and post your comments on the search engine (or on this review) in the Overarching Challenges & Opportunities forum.