Uncontrolled pain: a call for better study design

Timothy h. Hyndman, Ross s. Bowden, Andrew P. Woodward, Daniel S. J. Pang, Jordan O. Hampton

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Studies assessing animal pain in veterinary research are often performed primarily for the benefit of animals. Frequently, the goal of these studies is to determine whether the analgesic effect of a novel treatment is clinically meaningful, and therefore has the capacity to improve the welfare of treated animals. To determine the treatment effect of a potential analgesic, control groups are necessary to allow comparison. There are negative control groups (where pain is unattenuated) and positive control groups (where pain is attenuated). Arising out of animal welfare concerns, there is growing reluctance to use negative control groups in pain studies. But for studies where pain is experimentally induced, the absence of a negative control group removes the opportunity to demonstrate that the study methods could differentiate a positive control intervention from doing nothing at all. For studies that are controlled by a single comparison group, the capacity to distinguish treatment effects from experimental noise is more difficult; especially considering that pain studies often involve small sample sizes, small and variable treatment effects, systematic error and use pain assessment measures that are unreliable. Due to these limitations, and with a focus on farm animals, we argue that many pain studies would be enhanced by the simultaneous inclusion of positive and negative control groups. This would help provide study-specific definitions of pain and pain attenuation, thereby permitting more reliable estimates of treatment effects. Adoption of our suggested refinements could improve animal welfare outcomes for millions of animals globally.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1328098
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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