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PCRM Study Exposes Problems with Spinal Cord Injury Experiments on Animals

A new PCRM study explores the reasons why animal experiments in spinal cord injury do not accurately predict human outcomes. “Animal Models in Spinal Cord Injury: A Review” appears this April in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews in the Neurosciences. It was written by PCRM scientists Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., John Pippin, M.D., and Chad Sandusky, Ph.D.

“Despite decades of animal experiments, there is still no effective treatment to reverse spinal cord injury in humans,” said Dr. Akhtar, a neurologist. “Dozens of agents have been found to improve spinal cord injury in animals, but none of these turned out to be helpful in humans.”

The paper outlines major barriers in translating animal experiments’ results to human conditions: the differences between laboratory-induced injuries in animals and human injuries, the difficulties in interpreting functional outcomes in animals, and the many biological differences between humans and other animals.

mouseThe difficulty of applying results from animal experiments to the study of human health has become a major issue in health sciences. According to Food and Drug Administration data, more than 90 percent of drugs that proved successful in animal tests are not approved for wider use after clinical trials in humans. This February, the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Toxicology Program announced a major new program aimed at ending the use of animals in safety testing of new chemicals.

Some fields of research, such as cancer research and toxicity testing, are moving toward a greater use of nonanimal methods. Unfortunately, spinal cord research still involves many animal studies. As Dr. Akhtar points out, “We clearly need more effective research techniques.”

Several nonanimal techniques show promise. Researchers at the University of Miami, for example, are collaborating on the Human Spinal Cord Injury Model Project, which uses imaging techniques, post-mortem analysis, and nerve conduction methods to understand human spinal cords. Other directions involve computer modeling, in vitro research, and the study of human cadavers.

At least 250,000 Americans are living with spinal cord injuries; an estimated 10,000 Americans have new spinal cord injuries each year.


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