In a huge breakthrough for Alzheimer’s research, scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have created what they call “Alzheimer’s in a Dish.” The researchers placed human brain cells in a petri dish containing a gel and found that when the genes for Alzheimer’s disease were added to the petri dish, the brain cells developed the telltale “plaques” and “tangles” that are associated with the disease.
“It is a giant step forward for the field,” Duke University professor and Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy told The New York Times. “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates.”
Up until now, Alzheimer’s experimenters were focusing their efforts on genetically altered mice who have what New York Times science writer Gina Kolata calls “an imperfect form of the disease.”
Mice don’t naturally get Alzheimer’s disease. Even when experimenters insert Alzheimer’s genes into mice, the animals don’t develop the same symptoms that humans do. Like humans, mice make excess beta-amyloid proteins and develop plaques, but they never develop tangles, and nobody knows why. “Lacking anything better, mice were used anyway to test experimental drugs,” writes Kolata. “But more than 20 drugs that seemed as if they would cure Alzheimer’s, based on studies in mice, utterly failed when tested in patients.”
The new procedure will allow researchers to test thousands of Alzheimer’s drugs in a matter of months. By contrast, testing these drugs on mice would have been prohibitively time-consuming and expensive—in addition to being dangerously inaccurate—since each mouse test takes a year to complete.
What You Can Do
When researchers turn their attention to studying human disease in humans or using human cells, we get results that can actually help us. Scientists need to refocus their research efforts and move away from cruel and archaic animal experiments and toward human-based studies. Please urge your members of Congress to earmark research funds for progressive and relevant non-animal studies instead of useless experiments that harm and kill animals.