Using appropriate animal models

Dr Kieran BreenThis week, I was excited to see new research, in Neurobiology of Disease, showing that gene therapy can improve the condition of mature monkeys with Parkinson's-like symptoms.

This study is groundbreaking because the researchers used older monkeys, the equivalent of 55 year old humans, instead of the 'teenage' animals that are usually used.

Younger animals tend to be used in science because they are more easily available. But, for age-related conditions like Parkinson's, where the vast majority of people are over 50, this simply doesn’t make sense.

Using inappropriate animal models means new treatments can look promising but do not work for real people with Parkinson's. This is not only an irresponsible use of animals, and a waste of time and money, but also means we may be missing out on drugs that could work to more effectively treat people with Parkinson's.

Coming up with models that reflect the real condition is crucial to finding a cure for Parkinson's. The Parkinson's Disease Society is funding projects exploring new animal models, while recent breakthroughs have created yeast models of nerve cells and even fruit flies with Parkinson's-associated dementia

Dr Kieran Breen is Director of Research and Development at the Parkinson's Disease Society

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