Why use models in doing research: Brilliant Things I Heard at Clinical/Scientific Meeting

Someone was, once again, questioning the use of animal models for pathophysiology studies. “Rats are not people”. This question reflects the disconnect between clinicians who became researchers and researchers who came to do clinical studies.

The point of using animals is to isolate the one aspect of the pathophysiology in the animal model. Of course, real patients have lots of other confounding factors. But the point is to see what is happening without those factors.

Sometimes I think clinicians who are researchers think the only reason to do animal model work is to make sure it won’t hurt teh pashents. They think that if it’s gonna be OK, then why waste time with animals.

Sometimes I think that no one teaches the concept of ceteris paribus – all else being equal – any more. It’s the idea of holding things constant and varying one factor at a time. That way, a researcher can understand the impact of just that factor. I recognize that is tough to do in this day and age. It can make experimental science take for ever. It is, quite often, impossible in patient based research. But that is exactly the point of animal models. Which is the brilliant thing someone said at the meeting.

An animal model doesn’t have all the complications of patients, especially the cognitive ones. The question at the meeting came up concerning post-stroke rehab strategy. And the clinician kept saying that just because it works in rats doesn’t mean it will work in humans where compliance and emotional state are important, if not critical. The brilliant answer was: if this didn’t work in rats, then there was no way it would work in people. Don’t you want to know what at least has the possibility of working in humans?

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4 thoughts on “Why use models in doing research: Brilliant Things I Heard at Clinical/Scientific Meeting

  1. Except that’s not true either. There are things that don’t work in rats, but do work in people. (Cognitive Behavior Therapy, as a trivial example.)

    The real question is whether you think medicine should work as a long experience of trial and error or whether you think it should be a science. If it’s a science, than what matters is HOW things work. For that, you need to understand how biology works. We don’t study rats to learn how people work. We study rats to learn how rats work, which tells us how biological mechanisms work. (And since humans are biological mechanisms, that understanding helps us understand how humans work.)

    You might as well say quantum physics was a waste of time because it didn’t help build a better railroad track. (Of course, it gave us computers, cell phones, MRI, and most of modern life.)

    Science is valuable because knowledge is valuable.

  2. Pingback: More on how Science works, experiments: what is knowledge worth? | Mistress of the Animals

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