What has killing countless animals in Alzheimer’s experiments taught researchers about the disease? Honestly, not much.
After decades of wasted time and money, more than 100 unsuccessful drugs, and an untold number of animals’ lives taken, no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or method of slowing its progression in humans has been found.
Here are five things revealed by the overwhelming failure of using animal models for Alzheimer’s research:
1. Mice, rats, monkeys, dogs, and other animals don’t naturally develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Mice are quick learners and caring parents, and they even sing to their mates. They’re wonderfully complex and interesting. But just because they have thoughts and emotions just like humans doesn’t mean we share the same physiology.
Experimenters manipulate the genome of mice and other animals to force amyloid plaques to build up in their brains, just as they build up in the brains of humans with Alzheimer’s disease. While these mutilated animals may have symptoms that resemble those of Alzheimer’s, they don’t actually have the disease.
Studies have shown that trial drugs that remove toxic amyloid-beta protein from animal brains can help the animal. However, these same drugs do not help human patients with memory loss or cognitive problems.
2. Some treatments that have worked in animal trials have actually hurt human patients with Alzheimer’s.
While a compound of drugs known as BACE inhibitors tested successfully in mice who’d been genetically altered to develop a pseudo-Alzheimer’s condition, these drugs actually appeared to worsen human patients’ cognitive abilities and potentially exacerbate brain shrinkage. Three pharmaceutical companies echoed this same stunning failure.
3. The failure rate in humans for new Alzheimer’s drugs is a staggering 99%.
According to the Allen Institute, Alzheimer’s affects roughly 5.8 million Americans. It, along with other forms of dementia, costs the U.S. an estimated $290 billion every year. Despite this grave reality, no therapy exists to slow down the disease’s progression.
4. Archaic animal testing failed. Curing Alzheimer’s requires a 21st century approach.
As Allen Institute for Brain Science Senior Investigator Ed Lein stated, “We’re trying to cure a disease of a complex system we fundamentally don’t understand.”
Bradley Hyman, a professor of neurology and Alzheimer’s researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, furthered this point, adding that the complexity of Alzheimer’s disease makes it “very difficult to model in experimental systems.” He says,
“[D]irect examination of the human brain is without a doubt crucial to understanding the disease.”
5. We must stop killing animals and actually focus on the HUMAN brain.
More than ever, researchers must embrace non-animal research methods that are actually relevant to human physiology.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently gave a $40.5 million grant to three research institutions working together to study how Alzheimer’s disease takes root in the brain. According to reports, the group will study tissue from brains donated by people who died with Alzheimer’s.
Lead investigator Lein told NPR that researchers have mistakenly been “trying to go right to the cure without really understanding the brain and what actually goes wrong that leads to dementias.”
One goal of the new consortium is to identify abnormal cells before any symptoms of Alzheimer’s start to appear. “If we can find the cells where something goes wrong, this would provide a new way to try to treat this disease,” Lein said.
What You Can Do
Support Alzheimer’s charities that actually help humans and don’t test on animals. Families and animals deserve more than death and failure from experimenters.
And urge your congressional representatives to demand that NIH stop wasting our tax dollars funding pointless animal experiments and instead focus on non-animal methods of research that save lives.