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Amelia's picture

Support on animal models

In response to Jessica, I have thought about using other models for my pain research when I start in graduate school in the fall. I’m planning to go to Northwestern University for a PhD in Neuroscience and will most likely work with a (well-known) professor who uses both brain imaging techniques for chronic pain conditions and animal models. While visiting, I thought about what answers about chronic pain they have been able to find without using animals, and while they have made some huge discoveries: http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/24/46/10410 , it has always been that the imaging work is the first step and then they use rat models to try to confirm and extend their knowledge. I have chosen to stay working with animal models because I feel as though the information you can gain is (at the moment) much more than you can with just using humans (who you usually can’t truly manipulate). This is a paper by the lab that I’m planning to work with which I think points to a great reason to use animal models—through them they have found that chronic pain may in fact be in the cortex-a memory of the pain: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T0K-4NJ26SD-5&_user=423519&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000020258&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=423519&md5=961f08b08ee88a46a6efbc976f29f2e4#

However, Andrea brings up an important point. How good of models are these rats and mice that we use? We accept that they don’t have the cognitive power of primates, and yet often use them for studying learning and memory. The rat chronic pain models, while believed to mimic humans with chronic pain, are never exact. Many chronic pain conditions have no physical origin that can be found—there is not a way, as of yet, to model this type of pain in animals. How could we, since they can’t speak to us? What does this than tell us about pain? I feel as though we admit that there are conclusions that can’t be drawn, and yet we continue to draw them. As researchers we have a responsibility to acknowledge the limitations of our methods, and I think with animal research we must keep in mind that they are not perfect. To draw conclusions to humans (which is what most researchers are trying to do) requires that we make a leap in assumptions. I’m not sure how/will/should this change, but it is something that we need to consider. While rodents may be good models of simple tasks, are we drawing too many conclusions to say that the mice we use as models of Alzheimer’s are just as good? At the same time, how else can research be done? While alternative models may be useful, I think many are a long way off from being even close to the use of animals.

At the same time, self-report in humans also has problems. Basically, there is no perfect way to do research, so we must choose a model and stick with it. Humans, animals, blue brains—all have limitations and all have reasons for use.

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