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Genetically, humans appear to be incredibly similar to other  animals such as chimpanzees, mice, and even worms. This apparent  similarity has long been used as a justification for the use  of animal models of human diseases in medical research and drug development. However, it  is becoming increasingly evident that it is the minor genetic  differences between species, rather than the major similarities,  that are of particular concern when attempting to extrapolate  'scientific' data from, for example, mice to humans. Despite  decades of animal-based research and experimentation, most of  the major medical problems we face still have not been significantly  elucidated, and indeed are bigger problems today than ever before.  Those areas that have seen improvements not only have human-based  clinical research to thank, but have been confounded by animal-based data.

In an attempt to improve the demonstrably poor animal model, researchers have begun to genetically engineer animals, none  more so than the mouse.

Far from providing transgenic animals that are more 'human-like' modelling diseases such as cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's, diabetes, arthritis and Parkinson's, this endeavour has also  failed disastrously. More detailed knowledge about the inefficient techniques involved in their production and subtle differences  in inter-species biochemistry explain why this is so, combining  to confound knowledge about these diseases already gained from  human studies, rather than augmenting it. Even if transgenesis  were to become a perfect technique, inter-species differences  in gross genome architecture, gene composition and structure,  mechanisms of gene expression and the cellular machinery responsible  for it, and ultimately the manipulation, modification and processing  of the protein products of these genes, collectively negate its  utility by a magnitude much greater than the sum of these parts.

Rather than trying to fix an animal model that has always been 'broken,' researchers should embrace new and more predictive  in vitro techniques that cutting edge technology has put at our  disposal. Those that adopt a 'Luddite' mentality, continuing to shun these methods and dogmatically  clinging to the use of animal models, have only their own interests  at heart, not those of billions of people relying upon 'true'  science and medical advancement to relieve human suffering.

Dr. Jarrod Bailey

School of Surgical & Reproductive Sciences 





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