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Animal research more crucial than ever

It is unfortunate that some members of Congress* are unaware of the excellent article written by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of the division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Medical Research Council at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, that thoroughly debunks the notion that animal research plays little role in medical discovery. I encourage everyone to read it.

When I hear statements suggesting that animal research plays no role in medical discovery, I am reminded that the great majority of people are unaware of the vital role that basic – or my preferred word – foundational scientific research with animals plays in the discovery and development of practically all medical advances of the last and current centuries, not the least of which are the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that are now helping us to return to our pre-pandemic lives.

Another recent example of foundational science leading to medical discovery in the news lately is how modern brain computer interfaces help people with locked in syndrome communicate with their loved ones. This is an amazing medical accomplishment and one that would not be possible without foundational research performed over the last 25+ years, mostly in monkeys, and some of which was performed at WaNPRC by our core scientist, Dr. Eberhard Fetz. The contribution of WaNPRC’s research, veterinary and behavioral care staff is expanding with our new generation of scientists. For example, Dr. Azadeh Yazdan-Shahmorad and her team recently developed a new set of tools to explore how the brain changes with stroke, opening the door to facilitate the development of new therapies for neurorehabilitation. The tools she and her team developed include state-of-the art imaging combined with physiology and a refined method for producing a monkey model of cerebral cortical stroke. The toolbox includes a novel method for studying cerebral stroke with very small infarcts, opening up unprecedented opportunities to study the physiology of stroke associated with minimal to no functional deficits. Although we don’t yet know what medical breakthroughs these new tools will yield, there is a high likelihood that they will yield tremendous new knowledge about how our brains work both in health and disease. Contrary to the idea that basic animal research fails to lead to human therapies, basic animal research is the very foundation upon which therapies reside.

*Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-CA) and Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC), recently deployed a method straight from the anti-animal research playbook in their letter to the interim director of NIH, by neglecting to point out that the testing of novel compounds on animals, before bringing those compounds to humans, is very effective at preventing humans (and our companion animals) from being exposed to dangerous drugs. Their letter also fails to capture the fact that if it weren’t for basic animal research, we wouldn’t have very many compounds or therapies to test.