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Understanding Animal Research

Neuroscientist Liz Burnett explains how animal models help scientists understand the healthy body and what goes wrong during disease.

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Animal Models

Even animals with simple nervous systems can help us learn about how our own nervous system works.

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Introduction

Neuroscientists aim to understand how the brain works and to advance treatments for diseases and disorders of the nervous system. This type of research requires investigating complex functions at all levels of the living nervous system. Because it is impossible to use humans for this work, neuroscientists turn to animals. Acting under regulations put forth by governmental agencies, scientists use animals to discover how diseases and their potential therapies affect the entire body — experimental procedures that are often difficult, if not impossible, to replicate with alternative methods.

Discoveries

Animal Research Success: Blindness and the Retina

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Research on dogs has enabled scientists to develop a potential cure that could someday restore vision to people – and dogs – with leber congenital amaurosis.

Animal Research Success: Drug Addiction

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Animal research has helped scientists better understand how repeated drug use changes the brain, resulting in new treatments for addiction.

Animal Research Success: Prion Diseases

Source: Society for Neuroscience
There is no cure for prion diseases, such as "mad cow" disease, however, researchers’ increased understanding of these diseases has had positive benefits for both humans and animals.

Animal Research Success: Stroke

Source: Society for Neuroscience
There is only one established clinical treatment for stroke, which was developed following experiments observing stroke in rabbits.

Animal Research Success: Psychiatric Disorders

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Animal models have been central to the discovery of drug treatments for such serious disorders as depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.

Animal Research in the News

Videos: A (Very) Close Look Inside the Zebrafish Brain

Source: National Geographic Phenomena Blog
Date: 15 April 2014
Eric Betzig of HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus reports a new technology that dramatically sharpens microscopic images of neurons in a zebrafish.

Neurons Responsible for 'Moonwalking' Flies Isolated

Source: WIRED
Date: 3 April 2014
A team of geneticists has been able to map the capabilities of some fruit flies to walk backwards to the specific neurons in the brain responsible.

Fly Brain 'Atlas' Opens Door to Linking Human Neurons to Actions

Source: Chicago Tribune
Date: 27 March 2014
Research identified the brain neurons that cause every behavior fruit fly larvae execute.