This guidance should be read in conjunction with our How to apply section
Good veterinary clinical research concentrates on a single question, preferably one that has arisen in the clinic and where the answer will help other veterinary professionals make better decisions in the diagnosis and management of disease.
FINER criteria for a good research question
|Feasible||Will it be possible to recruit sufficient patients or acquire sufficient samples? Do you have the technical expertise required or can you get help if needed? Is the research affordable in terms of time and money? Is it realistic or are you being too ambitious?|
|Interesting||The research question needs to interest you as it will take a great deal of time and effort. However, it should also be of interest to the pet owning public as well as members of the veterinary profession.|
|Novel||While research aims to produce new knowledge, it is unlikely to be completely novel. It is worth considering how your research relates to current knowledge. For example, does it set out to confirm, refute or extend previous findings?|
|Ethical||The study must meet with ethical approval before it is considered by the grants awarding committee. BSAVA PetSavers does not fund research involving experimental animals or the artificial induction of disease. Remember that informed consent will be required from the owner regarding any procedure undertaken on the animal or samples collected.|
|Relevant||BSAVA PetSavers is particularly interested in research which addresses common conditions, complications or problems encountered in clinical practice.|
Planning your research project
1. Search the literature
Find out what is already known about a subject. This should include not only research about the particular disease or condition that you wish to study, but also the methods and equipment you propose to use. If you are not working in an academic environment you may need to arrange access to a specialist library to gain access to full-text articles. The RCVS Trust Library is a good place to start.
2. Refine the question
Once you have studied the literature you will be in a better position to specify the exact aims and objectives of your research. Does your research have a hypothesis that you are seeking to test? Does it address a significant clinical problem? It is important to be clear about the aims of the research considering:
- The population under investigation
- The hypothesis
- The outcome that will be measured
3. Study design and sample size
The appropriate methods will depend on the question that you are looking to answer but the clinical research projects we prefer may be broadly categorised as follows:
- Prospective investigations: usually quantitative studies with finite objectives, often utilising modern science such as epidemiology or molecular biology as research tools.
- Multidisciplinary investigations: exploring biological mechanisms that underlie disease processes and/or the means by which these might be manipulated to improve diagnosis and management.
- Clinical trials: conducted to assess the efficacy of diagnostic techniques or therapeutic agents.
- Other research methodologies, including qualitative studies, will be considered if they are appropriate to the study and are likely to advance the understanding of the cause and/or management of a clinical disorder.
The sample size is almost always a compromise between recruiting a sufficient number to answer the research question and producing a manageable amount of data. To estimate the numbers of subjects or samples required, you should have some idea of what will be measured, the expected variability of the parameters to be measured (standard deviation or variance), and the size of effect that you expect to detect between the groups. The larger the natural variation and the smaller the effect, the larger the number of subjects or samples that will be required to have sufficient ‘statistical power’ to answer the question. Some of these numbers will be estimates which may be obtained from the literature or from a pilot study. Be careful extrapolating from the human literature, or from other species, unless there is other evidence to support the idea that the effect is likely to be similar. Whenever possible it is a good idea to consult a statistician at an early stage of planning a research project. The Journal of Small Animal Practice (JSAP) has provided an online collection of articles about statistical analysis as an introduction to the topic.
JSAP also provides assistance in designing, running and analysing clinical research projects in the form of the the Clinical Research Assessment and Guidance (CRAG) panel. The hope is that this will ease the path to publication for primary care veterinarians and house officers who wish to undertake high quality small animal clinical research. Individuals or groups with an idea for a clinical study can work with the CRAG panel to refine the methodology so that the project will be feasible and likely to come up with reliable answers. Find out more here and read the JSAP editorials: Scaling the CRAG to smooth the path to publication in JSAP and CRAG rocks (free for BSAVA members).
The recruitment of cases can be one of the most difficult parts of the research process. Be realistic about the number of cases that can be recruited and the time that it will take to collect the data. It is important to consider how the cases will be selected, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and how withdrawals will be handled. This is particularly important where some degree of follow up is intended. It is also important to consider how well the sample represents the type of cases that will normally be presented in veterinary practice. BSAVA members can apply for help with promoting their project and boosting recruitment through the BSAVA Research Board.
It is important to think about the ethics of your research proposal at an early stage, giving consideration to the welfare of the animals involved as well as issues of consent and confidentiality for the owners. Those working in academia will be expected to obtain ethical approval from their University or Research Institute. Those in practice may wish to get advice from a University or Research Institute, and are advised to apply for ethical review through the RCVS Ethics Review Panel.
On 1st July 2022, the RCVS published new guidance on how to determine whether a proposed procedure or study is routine veterinary practice, clinical veterinary research or should be regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA), and where to access relevant advice. This is highly relevant to BSAVA PetSavers’ grant applications, and is particularly useful useful for those carrying out practice-based research.
The new guidance also introduces a specific obligation for practitioners to obtain an ethics review for all studies where the consent of an owner or keeper would be expected before an animal is included in a study, or where consent is needed for the use of an animal’s data or previously collected sample. This will take effect from 1st September 2022.
Good research will fail to achieve its aims if it is not communicated effectively to the wider research community and the public. While the preparation of an article for a peer reviewed journal can seem daunting, it must be considered an essential part of the process. All publications directly arising from grant support by BSAVA PetSavers are required to be submitted to JSAP as one of the terms and conditions of the grant. If you have any doubts about the suitability of your paper for JSAP, you should contact the Editor (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To qualify for a BSAVA PetSavers’ grant, a research proposal must meet the following criteria:
- The study must involve only naturally occurring disease in small animals; there must be no experimental or artificial induction of disease.
- The anticipated results of the study will result in a change in diagnosis or management of small animal disease.
- The study must be supervised by people with appropriate veterinary clinical skills and knowledge.
- Any interventions on animals (including obtaining samples) would be considered part of recognised veterinary practice.
- Ethical approval has been obtained or, if not, the steps being taken to ensure that the project achieves ethical approval are outlined.
- The results will directly benefit cats, dogs or other companion animals. If the benefit is not direct, further steps (and at what cost) before a benefit becomes apparent are stated.