In mice: Are animal studies relevant to human health?
ISLAMABAD: The media is rife with claims of breakthrough biomedical studies performed in animals. However, can animals ever faithfully model human health?
Avid readers of medical news will be familiar with the widespread use of animal models in biomedical research.
From nutrition to cancer research and studies on metabolism, scientists and journalists alike draw parallels between animals and humans.
However, problems can arise when researchers make predictions about human health based on the results of such studies.
Scientists refer to this concept as clinical relevance. Many biomedical grant funding agencies require researchers to justify the use of animal models by predicting how likely the results are to make an impact on human health.
Meanwhile, journalists write catchy news headlines to draw our attention, sometimes failing to critically assess how clinically relevant a study is; or worse, they leave out the fact that scientists performed the work in animals, not humans.
The debate about the clinical relevance of animal models is ongoing, and a Twitter account called @justsayinmice — which encourages social media users to retweet news stories that do not clearly state if results are from an animal model or human volunteers with the caption “IN MICE” — recently fuelled it.
Can we assume that conducting research in animal models will reveal insights about our own health, and who is to blame when a news story includes sweeping statements about clinical relevance?
In this tale of mice and men (in lab coats), we explore how animal studies have contributed to biomedical advances, and why some scientists maintain that animal models harbor no clinical relevance.
Animal models date back to ‘2000 BC’
Before we delve into the early days of animal studies, I am going to add in a disclaimer. During my time as a research scientist, before joiningMedical News Today, I was involved in several studies that used a large pig model of wound healing.
Although I have made every effort to approach this topic factually, I cannot guarantee that my experiences have not left me without some level of bias.