Responsible Animal Research: Letter to the Editor
In December, SfN President Hollis Cline and Mar Sanchez, chair of the SfN’s Committee on Animals in Research, were featured in The Hill highlighting the importance of animals in research. Cline and Sanchez respond to a National Public Radio commentary about their op-ed below:
Letter to the Editor, National Public Radio
Published February 18, 2016
Responsible Animal Research Critical to Progress on Treating Devastating Brain Diseases
Dear Editor,The Feb. 14 commentary by Samuel Garner, “The ‘Necessity’ of Animal Research Does Not Mean It’s Ethical,” does not reflect the unassailable reality that responsible animal research remains essential to advance our understanding of the brain and to treat its diseases. Given the tremendous human and economic toll of brain disorders worldwide—including autism, depression, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease—it is among those areas of research in which continued progress is most critically needed.
As leaders in the neuroscience community, the Society for Neuroscience is committed to speaking up about the essential role of animal research to realize tomorrow’s treatments and cures. We strive to understand the most complex biological structure in the universe, our brain, and this still requires basic investigation of functions at all levels of the living nervous system. This research is laying the essential foundation for new diagnostic and treatment strategies. For example, work using mice, rats and monkeys is fundamental to understanding the genetic and environmental roots of countless diseases. Research on monkeys was essential to map the brain and develop the technique of deep-brain stimulation, which has rescued thousands of Parkinson’s patients who no longer respond well to drugs. This same technique is also giving hope to patients with otherwise-incurable depression. Because it is impossible to use humans for much of this research, neuroscientists must turn to a variety of animal models. Despite animal rights activists’ claims to the contrary, the vast majority of this research cannot be done with alternative models or methods. This is true even with significant progress in non-invasive brain imaging and computer models, both of which are themselves based on research in animals.
Animal research is conducted under extensive regulation and oversight to assure humane and compassionate animal care. In the U.S., each institution must have an animal care and use committee that evaluates and approves every research protocol that uses even a single rodent and other countries have similar procedures. This committee includes veterinarians, clinical experts, and representatives from the general public. But, the scientific community is also strongly committed to the welfare and humane treatment of animals used in research, and strives to employ the least invasive methods to achieve the resulting knowledge. Furthermore, nearly 90 percent of research is conducted on animal models such as worms, fruit flies, tadpoles, mice and rats, with research on primates and other higher-order animals used only when there is no other choice to understand crucial functions and disorders that affect higher-order cognition, mental disorders, attention and decision-making.
We also strive to be transparent and communicate the process and progress generated from animal research – indeed, you can learn more about neuroscience research and the role of animals at BrainFacts.org/animals. As much as anyone, researchers hope and work for a day when we understand the basic mechanisms underlying brain function and how to treat and cure debilitating disorders that rob lives and families. Science will one day get there, and we will owe much of it to irreplaceable and compassionate research done in animals.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University
Affiliate Scientist in the Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience Yerkes National Research Primate Center
Chair, Society for Neuroscience’s Committee on Animals in Research