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BrainFacts.org

A PUBLIC INFORMATION
INITIATIVE OF:

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Why Animals Are Vital to Brain Research

Research using ferrets is providing a window into brain development that could lead to insights into conditions from autism to brain injury. 

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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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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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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

Watch 80,000 Neurons Fire in the Brain of a Fish

Source: WIRED
Date: 28 July 2014
In a new study, scientists tracked the activity of 80 percent of the neurons in the brain of a baby zebrafish as the animal responds to what it sees.

Scientists Discover a 520-Million-Year-Old Brain: Neural Structure Found Inside Fossil of the World's Oldest Predator

Source: Daily Mail
Date: 17 July 2014
The discovery reveals a brain that is surprisingly simple and less complex than those known from fossils of some of the animal’s prey.

N.I.H. Tells Researchers to End Sex Bias in Early Studies

Source: New York Times
Date: 14 May 2014
As more drugs are found to be problematic for women, the National Institutes of Health is seeking inclusion of female lab animals and cell lines.