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Are Animal Models Relevant in Modern Psychiatry?: Page 5 of 5

Are Animal Models Relevant in Modern Psychiatry?: Page 5 of 5


Some researchers continue to justify the need for invasive cognitive studies in animals (particularly the non-human primate) on grounds that single neuron studies are not feasible in humans.53,54 That is no longer the case, since single neuron activity can now be studied in patients with Parkinson disease who undergo deep brain stimulation and in patients with epilepsy in whom electrode probes are used to identify epileptic foci. We need to reconcile ourselves with the fact that the level of detail that has been achieved in the study of the macaque brain will likely never be achieved in studies of the human brain.55

Current trends indicate that diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders in the 21st century will rely more on an integrative approach, including the best of genomic advances (eg, human brain transcriptome; pharmacogenomics in drug development geared toward personalized medicine); noninvasive screening techniques combined with ethical pharmacological studies, such as pharmaco-magnetoencephalography56,57; and clinical observation and other relevant human-based methodologies.

Empathy in psychiatry

There is an urgent need to acknowledge the role of empathy in science. The inclusion of empathy as a fundamental tenet is especially important in psychiatry and psychology, as an antidote to the mechanistic view of disease and the undervaluing or even ignoring of psychological and spiritual components.15 Animal researchers have traditionally been circumspect about including any notion of empathy in their work, for fear of being stigmatized as anthropomorphic.

In contrast, some researchers have openly expressed the moral conflict they face when using non-human primates in experiments.58 These researchers occasionally acknowledge the very negative effects of family separation, isolation, and boredom, in addition to the pain and suffering inflicted on the animals during the experiments.

Several studies have indicated that mammalian species, especially the chimpanzee, have a sense of self and self-awareness.59,60 This has led some scientists, particularly behaviorists, to suggest that these animals should be afforded special protection from pain, suffering, and incarceration.61 In addition, studies of other mammalian species, including mice and rats, suggest that they also possess awareness of self and even more subtle “human” qualities associated with empathy and social joy.62 All of this empirical evidence points to a need to embrace a paradigm of “ultimate concern in science.”63



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