Patient Groups Highlight Need for Animal Research
Scientists often face questions about why animals are used in research and whether animal research is necessary to advance science.
“It is important that we raise these issues for our members, who are patient advocates,” said Katie Sale, executive director of the American Brain Coalition (ABC). “This can be a sensitive subject, but we think it’s important to underscore the role that animals play in basic and translational research, so the scientific community and the general public are aware,” she said.
Sale joined panelists at a discussion on Animal Research and Brain Diseases cosponsored by ABC and SfN and held at the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics Annual Meeting in February. The discussion was meant to inform staff and physicians at patient advocacy organizations about the role animals play in research underlying the understanding of human health and specific treatment therapies. Speakers came from scientific, clinical, and pharmaceutical backgrounds.
“Patient advocates and physicians need to know about the vitally important role that animal research plays, both historically and currently, in developing therapeutic treatments,” said University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Mark Rasenick, who chaired the event. “This audience deals with patients every day and may not know why we need and how we use animal models to conduct research in the lab. Generating that background will provide context to patient care that can go a long way to creating understanding and developing new allies” he said.
Panelists emphasized that animal research is well regulated and subject to thorough federal, state, institutional, and community review, and that scientists who work with animals do so humanely, using the fewest number of animals possible.
Past SfN President Michael Goldberg, a professor of neuroscience and clinical neurology at Columbia University and chair of SfN’s Committee on Animals in Research, noted the role that nonhuman primates have played in basic research. “There simply is no other way to get reliable, proven data on many systems that are key to understanding human health and disease,” he said. “Research on primates has led to many medical breakthroughs, such as the development of deep brain stimulation in Parkinson’s disease and new sensorimotor prosthetic limbs for patients suffering from paralysis.”
Organizations that depend on donations face unique challenges when it comes to issues of animal research. Robin Elliott, president of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, said that opposition groups can have a good deal of influence on potential donors, and it is important to let people know of the vital role this type of research plays in scientific and medical progress.
Roger Porter, chief scientific officer of the Epilepsy Foundation, professor, and consultant to pharmaceutical industry, gave an interesting history of animal research from the perspective of the pharmaceutical industry, and Matthew Bailey, vice president of the National Association of Biomedical Research (NABR), spoke about the impact of opposition groups.
The panel, funded by a grant from the Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, was part of a broader SfN effort to expand public awareness about the role of animal research in scientific and medical progress. Public resources on the importance of animal research are also funded through the grant.