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Transcript
Examplesofthevalueofanimaluseinneuroscience
fromtheFENSCommitteeonAnimalsinResearch(CARE)
Knowledge generated by neuroscience research using experimental animals has led to important
advances in fundamental knowledge about the function of the brain and nervous system. Such
knowledgeisessentialforunderstandingandtreatingneurologicalandmentalillnesses.
Neurological and mental illnesses affect people throughout the life span from childhood to old age.
Comparedwithmanyotherhealthproblemsmostmentalillnessdisproportionatelyaffectstheyoung.
By contrast Alzheimer’s dementia has a devastating impact as people age. The impact of dementia
increasesaslifespanincreasesacrosstheglobeandparticularinthemostdevelopedcountries.Not
onlydosuchillnessescausesufferinganddistressbuttreatingandcaringforthoseaffectedandtheir
familiescostshundredsofbillionsofEuroseveryyear1.
Neuroscientistsinvestigatingbrainfunctionfrequentlyworkbothwithhealthyhumanparticipantsand
withpatients.Manyneuroscientistsareactivelyinvolvedindevelopingnewmethodsandfurthering
existingtechniquesforstudyingthehumanbrain.Insomecases,however,theworkcanonlybedone
withanimals.
Memorylossanddifficultyfindingone’swayareearlywarningsofimpendingAlzheimer’sdisease.By
usingnon-invasiveneuroimagingmethodswithhumanvolunteerswenowknowthattheactivityofa
particulartypeofbraincell–agridcell–iscompromisedinyoungadultsatriskofAlzheimer’s2.Such
studies,however,wereonlymadepossiblebyearlierworkinratsconductedovermanyyearsthatfirst
identified grid cells. The experiments with rats led to the 2014 award of a Nobel Prize to a team of
researchersintheUKandNorway.
Sometimesexperimentswithanimalsdonotjusthelpusunderstandwhatisgoingwronginanillness
but they help develop cures and treatments. Parkinson’s disease has a devastating impact on our
ability to make even the simplest of movements that most of us would normally take for granted.
Implantation of electrodes into a brain structure called the sub-thalamic nucleus is an important
treatment received by hundreds of thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease. The critical
experiments that led to an understanding of the affected brain circuits were conducted in monkeys.
ResearchersintheUSAandFrancewholedtheworkreceivedthe2014LaskerAwardthatrecognizes
“majoradvancesintheunderstanding,diagnosis,treatment,andpreventionofhumandisease”.
Mostanimalresearchinneuroscienceisconductedwithrodents.Somefeaturesofthehumanbrain,
however, cannot be modelled well in the rodent. In such cases neuroscientists sometimes turn to
othertypesofanimals,suchasmonkeys,thatsharethesefeatureswiththehumanbrain.Lessthan1%
ofexperimentsareofthistype3buttheycanbeimportant.Forexample,therearesimilaritiesinthe
way that the nerve pathways connect the brain to the spinal cord and the muscles in monkeys and
humans. Understanding these pathways and the information they convey has been central to
understanding how illnesses such as stroke affect movement. Recent research in monkeys has
suggestednewwaystore-establishcontroloverastroke-affectedlimb.
Neuroscientists working with animals work alongside neuroscientists investigating human brain
function. Sometimes the very same individual scientist will employ computer models, human
experiments,andanimalexperiments.Thedifferentapproachesarenotalternativestooneanother
butallareessentialandcomplementarytooneanother.FENSsupportsresearchusinganimalswhen
itiscarefullyregulated,wherealternativemethodsarenotavailableandhighwelfarestandardsare
met.
References
1
Gustavsson,A.etal.CostofdisordersofthebraininEurope2010.EurNeuropsychopharmacol
21,718-779,doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2011.08.008(2011).
2
Kunz, L. et al. Reduced grid-cell-like representations in adults at genetic risk for Alzheimer's
disease.Science350,430-433,doi:10.1126/science.aac8128(2015).
3
UKHomeOfficeStatistics2015
FederationofEuropeanNeuroscienceSocieties-11Rued’Egmont,1000-Brussels,Belgium
FENSCommitteeonAnimalsinResearch(CARE)–care@fens.org
www.fens.org