Faculty researchers have found that better method reporting in animal experiments could save hundreds of thousands of pounds as well as stop clinical trials that have no hope of success.

The team, led by Faculty member Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Professor Andy Brass of the School from Computer Sciences looked at 58 papers on research on inflammatory bowel disease that were published between 2000 and 2014. They found huge differences in how methods were reported and found that vital information about experiments were missing, meaning they couldn’t be accurately reproduced in animal or human models.

Pills and a needle

Dr Cruickshank says she was shocked at the lack of information provided in papers: “What our research has uncovered is that this lack of data makes it difficult to validate the experiment and the result. Crucially this is having an impact of the reproducibility of experiments, both in the animal model and when transferred to human trials.”

The team were originally investigating a bowel disease called colitis and were trying to generate a database of research articles. It became clear that the information reported in the papers was not sufficient as the data could not be understood by members of other disciplines. This poses a potentially huge problem as research is becoming increasingly cross-discipline meaning that multiple teams must be able to understand data from other fields.

In order to address the issue, the team has created a ‘critical checklist’ that lists what information should be included.  The list includes nine keys areas, such as the gender of the research subject, as well as the environmental conditions they were kept in.

Dr Cruickshank explains: “Our checklist sounds like fairly basic information that should be in all papers. But over the past few years journals have asked for more and more abbreviated methods so information has stopped being included. Instead, papers are focussed on the results and discussion and sometimes you have to go back to a paper from the sixties to find the last time a particular method was accurately recorded.”

The team felt it was important to stress that poor reporting of methodology does not necessarily mean that the research is inaccurate. However, if the research is poorly documented, then it makes it much harder for other teams to reproduce the results and therefore can slow down the progression of further research.

Moving forward, the Manchester team is recommending that their checklist is adopted as a staple for all publications in order to improve the quality, comparability and standardisation of studies into inflammatory bowel disease. They believe it will make the interpretation and translation of data to human disease more reliable and ultimately contribute to making clinical trials more su

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