April 10, 2017


Drugs That Work In Mice Often Fail When Tried In People (Richard Harris, 4/10/17, NPR)

"Imagine you were doing a human drug trial and you said to the FDA, 'OK, I'm going to do this trial in 43-year-old white males in one small town in California,'" Garner says -- a town where everyone lives in identical ranch homes, with the same monotonous diets and the same thermostat set to the same temperature.

"Which is too cold, and they can't change it," he goes on. "And oh, they all have the same grandfather!"

The FDA would laugh that off as an insane setup, Garner says.

"But that's exactly what we do in animals. We try to control everything we can possibly think of, and as a result we learn absolutely nothing."

Garner argues that research based on mice would be more reliable if it were set up more like experiments in humans -- recognizing that variation is inevitable, and designing to embrace it rather than ignore it. He and his colleagues have recently published a manifesto, urging colleagues in the field to look at animals in this new light.

"Maybe we need to stop thinking of animals as these little furry test tubes that can be or even should be controlled," he says. "And maybe instead we should think of them as patients."

That could solve some of the problems with animal research, but by no means all.

Scientists make far too many assumptions about the underlying biology of disease when creating animal models of those illnesses, says Gregory Petsko, who studies Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders at the Weill Cornell Medical School.

"It's probably only when you get to try your treatments in people that you're really going to have any idea how right those assumptions were," Petsko says.

In his field, the assumptions are often poor, or downright misleading. And Petsko says this mindset has been counterproductive. Scientists in his field have "been led astray for many years by relying so heavily on animal models," he says.

Requiring that new drugs pass human tests before going to market would save a ton of money.

Posted by at April 10, 2017 6:35 AM