Animal research is vital to developing better treatments for such devastating conditions as autism, substance abuse and traumatic brain injury — and in the United States, the research is conducted humanely and with a careful eye on animal welfare. That's the message attendees took home from a Sept. 19 congressional briefing on animal research sponsored by APA's Science Government Relations Office.

Three researchers described their work:

  • Sheryl Moy, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studies mouse models of autism. She and her colleagues have found that administering oxytocin to mice that have similar traits to autistic people — such as asocial behavior — can make the mice behave in more pro-social ways. Moy is now examining similar compounds that might have the same effect and can be more effectively developed into pharmaceutical treatments.
  • David Hovda, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, uses mouse models to study how the brain recovers from mild traumatic brain injury. His work has led to an increasing recognition of the importance of removing athletes from games after a mild concussion for a longer period of time, to give the brain time to recover — 18 states have now passed laws requiring this for young athletes, Hovda said.
  • Edythe London, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, studies drug addiction. Her work in primates and rodents has led to a new understanding of the ways cocaine, nicotine and methamphetamine addictions affect brain function, especially in teens and young adults, and has contributed to new treatment options such as varenicline and physical exercise for methamphetamine addiction.

"This science is important and it is in the public interest," said University of Wisconsin–Madison psychologist Allyson Bennett, PhD, chair of APA's Committee on Animal Research and Ethics, who moderated the discussion. "We have the possibility, through this research — responsible, careful, humanely designed studies — to address human and animal suffering, to make a difference. And we have a moral obligation to do exactly that."

— Lea Winerman