OHSU strongly supports what data confirm: Knowledge gained through biomedical research in relevant animal models is essential to developing new ways to identify, prevent, treat or eradicate debilitating diseases and to improve human and animal health. OHSU’s views on this topic reflect those of other academic health centers, universities, physicians and scientists throughout the world.
Research in animals has led to vaccines for polio, smallpox, mumps, and measles; a vaccine platform for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and West Nile virus; new treatments for infertility, heart disease and diabetes; breakthroughs in Parkinson’s disease, blindness, stroke and depression. Through stem cell research, we have gained new insights that should transform our understanding of human health and biotechnology.
Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder, affects 13.9 percent of Americans, which costs the U.S. more than $249 billion annually and kills nearly 88,000 citizens each year, according to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The evidence that animal-based research has been instrumental in developing FDA-approved alcohol drug treatments for alcohol use disorder is overwhelming. Studies conducted at the Oregon National Primate Research Center and other research institutions across the country have already resulted in four FDA-approved medications that have proved effective in treating the deadly disorder for some people, but more work remains to be done to find effective therapies for all.
The nonhuman primate model of voluntary alcohol consumption developed at ONPRC has shown that, as in the human population, there are wide individual differences in how much alcohol is consumed daily. On one end of the spectrum are monkeys at highest risk for becoming a heavy drinker and showing signs of organ damage, cognitive deficits and unhealthy response to challenging events (stress).
These monkeys allow us to:
- Quantify the loss of brain mass with MRI
- Identify genes that confer risk and are shared with humans
- Understand the influence of sex differences in risk for heavy drinking
- Isolate the factors of an adolescent/young adult brain that underlies this critical period for establishing alcohol addiction
- Investigate the reasons why alcohol increases aggression in some individuals
- Develop new diagnostics for identifying harmful consumption of alcohol
- Provide new methods for mitigating fetal alcohol syndrome with early post-natal care
On the other end of the drinking spectrum, the monkeys that choose not to drink heavily can provide information on genetic, physiological, or social processes that confer protection against heavy alcohol drinking. In turn, this knowledge can be used to develop preventative approaches.
Studies in mice investigate how genetics influences the brain’s response to chronic alcohol use. It’s known that a combination of risk-promoting genes increases the odds of becoming alcohol-dependent; however, it’s been unclear which genes specifically lead to increased or decreased risk. Of the many thousands of human genes, only a handful are important. Using gene-mapping techniques, OHSU scientists have successfully located genes on mouse chromosomes that influence alcohol susceptibility traits. Armed with this data, they are working to develop targeted drug treatments based in precision medicine.
OHSU understands and embraces its need to provide compassionate and state-of-the-art health and veterinary care, a responsibility that comes with the privilege of working with animals. In support of the highest quality of care for our animals, we want the public to know the following:
- At the Oregon National Primate Research Center, we employ hundreds of dedicated staff committed to providing humane, respectful treatment and the best possible veterinary care to our nearly 5,000 primates. This staff includes 17 veterinarians, most of whom are Diplomates of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, a recognized specialty of distinction within the veterinary medical profession; 11 animal behaviorists; and dozens of other highly trained individuals who ensure the monkeys' ongoing physical and behavioral health and well-being, including providing healthy environmental enrichment activities and socialization, and rapidly responding to any health issues.
- The ONPRC recently completed a rigorous review by the AAALAC International Council on Accreditation, a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs. ONPRC staff were commended for “maintaining an exemplary program of laboratory animal care and use.”
- OHSU supports and adheres to the appropriately stringent Health Research Extension Act and Public Health Service Policy, and the Animal Welfare Act and Animal Welfare Regulations with oversight provided by the:
- OHSU has never been made aware of any investigation by the USDA.
- USDA inspection reports are publicly available. ONPRC posts these reports on its public website.
- OHSU only allows animal studies when other research methods, such as laboratory-based cell culture, simulation or computer modeling, are scientifically inadequate and/or when experimental designs are too dangerous for human participants.
- Before OHSU conducts any research with animals, the research must be approved for scientific value and justification the need for animals and species by peer review. Only after a study is deemed to be of scientific value is it possible to request approval from the OHSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. This rigorous review process evaluates factors such as details of the study design, steps taken in the study design to minimize pain and distress, and a documentation of appropriate training of all study staff. Veterinarians and animal behaviorists specially trained to care for research animals participate in this review process. If the committee determines that animals are necessary to address a research question, OHSU ensures the study uses the fewest number of animals possible and emphasizes procedures that minimize discomfort and stress.
- Researchers at OHSU use all relevant nonhuman animal models capable of assisting them in their quest for better health, including cell culture and computer modeling. These tools can model or represent parts of the whole organism, but they are not capable of showing how the systems of the body integrate within a live organism. For many questions affecting human and animal health, understanding how all these systems respond and interact can only be carried out in animal models.
- OHSU continually monitors and evaluates new methods and technology as alternatives to animal studies in our programs, and is committed to adopting these techniques as soon as their effectiveness is demonstrated.
Following is a sampling of animal research contributions to health and science at OHSU:
- New methods of vaccine development for HIV, tuberculosis, West Nile Virus and other infectious diseases
- Treatment for an infection that can result in chronic lung ailments and brain injury in pre-term infants
- The effects of aging on neurological, immunological and reproductive functions (and how these are related)
- Method of protecting fertility in people who receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy as treatment for disease
- Safer contraception method
- Improved understanding of brain injury and repair
- Improved baby formula to promote healthy eye development in newborns
- Gene therapy for persons who are carriers of mitochondrial defects
- A method for accessing embryonic stem cells without the destruction of the fertilized egg
- Treatments for infertility
- Clinical trials using vitamin C to protect against lung damage in infants whose mothers smoke during pregnancy
- Clinical interest in the effect of consuming a high-fat diet during pregnancy and the development of obesity and/or Type II diabetes in the next generation