Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that impacts memory, thinking and behavior, continues to be a leading cause of death in the United States, despite decades of research dedicated to findings treatments and cures.
As we have reported many times in Science First, including in a post earlier this year, scientists are questioning the value of using mice and other animal models for Alzheimer’s disease research. Not only do animals fail to mimic many aspects of the human disease, but treatments that have shown success in those models have failed in humans due to safety concerns or lack of efficacy. There have even been concerns that animal models are screening out treatments that may have worked in people.
As recently as last month, at a National Institutes of Health meeting, mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease were again called into question, when Dr. William Newsome from Stanford pointed out that, “The last 10 to15 drug trials…for Alzheimer’s have failed. They are virtually all based on mouse research.”
A recent report on NPR’s “All Things Considered” acknowledged the shortcomings of Alzheimer’s mouse models and proposed that rats may be more useful because they may have episodic memory—memory of an event or “episode.” This is the kind of memory that is among the first to be lost by Alzheimer’s patients. However, the NPR story fails to mention that several different rat models of Alzheimer’s have already been developed over the years—and just like the mouse models, these too have known inadequacies that limit their usefulness to model human disease.
The report went on to mention that the government is funding a $25 million effort for the development of better animal models of Alzheimer’s. What is that money going to initially focus on? Inexplicably, it is being used to fund mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.
Why does money continue to be invested in models that don’t work, and that lack human relevance? More support needs to go towards the development of better, more human-relevant Alzheimer’s models for disease modeling and drug discovery.
Many researchers are now using stem cell models to overcome the limitations of animal models, and can create patient-specific Alzheimer’s models by deriving neurons from induced pluripotent stem cells from the patients themselves. Government funding would pay much higher dividends in progressing human health if it were directed toward more human-relevant research.
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Rats That Reminisce May Lead To Better Tests For Alzheimer’s Drugs
September 29, 2016
Researchers are reporting evidence that rats possess “episodic memories,” the kind of memories that allow us to go back in time and recall specific events. These memories are among the first to disappear in people who develop Alzheimer’s disease.
For more information, see: NPR