When it received the joint second Cochrane-REWARD prize in 2017, SYRCLE (the SYstematic Review Center for Laboratory animal Experimentation) was focused on encouraging the use of systematic reviews of animal studies to reduce waste and improve quality. Since then, SYRCLE has evolved, and here Merel Ritskes-Hoitinga gives an overview of how things have developed.
SYRCLE started in the Netherlands with the aim of improving the reliability of laboratory animal research and its relevance for patients by using systematic reviews. Systematic reviews have not been commonly used for animal studies, yet we saw the potential of implementing them to identify knowledge gaps, reduce duplication and improve the design of future animal and clinical studies.
We have developed an education programme designed to support researchers to conduct high-quality systematic reviews of animal studies. ZonMw (the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development) funding has helped us to offer workshops and coaching. We have also set up a global SYRCLE ambassador network who can help to spread the messages locally.
Many of our systematic reviews of animal studies show that publication quality is quite low. They also show that the translation of findings from animal to human studies is quite poor. We think it is important to create transparency about this, in order to promote quality and translation of primary studies, as well as help speed up more use of replacement alternatives, such as human-based model systems.
We have already seen that participants from our workshops are getting good publications and citations, and people are accepting the idea. Our work has since grown, and we are now focussing on preclinical studies in general, including, for example, in vitro studies.
Impact of the prize
Receiving the second Cochrane-REWARD prize in 2017 was very important – it was fantastic to have international recognition from Cochrane and the REWARD alliance, especially for an initiative in a relatively new field.
We used the prize money to identify new ambassadors – our network has doubled from 15 to 30, from 15 countries around the world. Our network is made up of enthusiastic individuals that see the need to set up education in this area, and with more support this work could go even further.
In the coming years, we hope to be able to spread the messages of SYRCLE more quickly and widely, for example, through a train the trainer programme. However, funding is a challenge, especially as this is such a new field.
Collaborating with others on research waste
Through winning the prize, I met Matt Westmore from the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Paula Williamson of COMET (Core Outcome Measures in Effectiveness Trials), who were the other recipients that year, and Iain Chalmers and Paul Glasziou. Through these connections I have also become involved in the Ensuring Value in Research (EViR) Funders’ Forum.
EViR has produced 10 guiding principles to work towards increasing the value of health-related research, which are currently being implemented for clinical studies. We are now working together on a set of principles for preclinical studies. Implementing these will lead to higher quality research, improved reporting – and ultimately the better use of resources and protection of animals and humans.
The Cochrane-REWARD prize – 2019 nominations open
The annual Cochrane-REWARD prize recognizes good local or pilot initiatives that have the most potential to reduce research waste if scaled up globally.
Nominations for this year’s prize are open until 5 June 2019.