Model Mayhem

Never mind the glorious Victoria Secret types (well….). There are other kinds of wonderful models in this world. StatisticalModels, Public Health Efficacy models and low and behold….Animal Models. Often the target issue of animal right activists against the world of dirty pharma (and rightly so), animal models do and have played an insightful role into how medicines work before giving them a go in us human likes. A couple of success stories from this website gives a very brief insight into new-found treatments for PTSD, Memory problems and Polio for example. Animals have also helped recently in our understanding of Rheumatoid Arthritis pathophysiology.

In 2012 I took it upon myself to investigate Animal Models and their use in a specific area of neurophysiology – looking at the movement disorder ‘Parkinson’s diseaseor PD. I knew from the start it would be tricky business, for example – does the Substantia Nigra (one of the warzones in the PD brain) of a glorified rat really represent the human Substantia Nigra? But still, I knew a good bunch of reasons for animal research to help understand important conditions such as PD.

I wanted to investigate how animal research has helped in our understanding of the relationship between genetic causes and environmental causes in the origin and progression of this movement disorder. Under the guidance of some statistical wizards and a Professor who always had to put his feet up on something when he talked, I was led to the epicentre of a scientific nightmare.

Out of 23 animal research studies I analysed with rigorous statistical methods and several Pick ‘n’ Mixes from the downstairs WH Smiths, a grand total of zero bothered to ensure the person investigating the results of their experiment were ‘not in the know’ of the experimental animals and the control groups. This of-course increases bias and bias is the very thing any clinical trial would want to avoid. And so why should a pre-clinical study, in animals, which require trillions of hours of the sharpest brain-work and a fair amount of funding, be any different? Save time and money at the start in this animal research, and quicker we may be onto the path to success in finding the answer to BIG questions such as the Origin of Parkinson’s disease, or how it progresses, or how best to treat it. Sure yes, I’m picky on the one point here but it’s a big point, and other parameters in these studies were poorly controlled to.

Nonetheless – some physiological considerations to ponder upon did crop up. Namely, a mutation (A53T) in a gene called alpha-synuclein appears to be enhance the negative effects of one potent environmental toxin that causes PD symptoms – a molecule called MPTP. As with many areas of Parkinson’s disease research, the energy factories of our cells – Mitochondria – appear to hold the link here too.

Whilst the picture is of PD causality and pathophysiology is  building, a slicker methodology shouldn’t be overlooked in the next round of audits. Only then can the masterpiece truly take shape. Only then can we be certain to find real answers (a cure, perhaps?) to real problems. Only then, can we hope to replace, reduce and refine animal models in medical research. 

Sounds good if you ask me!


English: Horizontal MRI (T1 weighted) slice wi...

English: Horizontal MRI (T1 weighted) slice with highlighting indicating location of the substantia nigra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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