About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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May 5, 2003

No More Animal Models of Human Behavior

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Animal models of disease are the cornerstones of medical research, but they are inherently limited in their predictive value of complex human mental behaviors such as mood shifts or cognitive preferences. However, this fact hasn't stopped the scientific community from focusing their finite resources on improving their animal models. 

The current trend, called environmental enrichment (EE), makes the laboratory living environments more complex by outfitting them with objects that stimulate animals' mental and physical growth. The results are relatively obvious:

  • The rats housed in an enriched environment had increased activity of neurotransmitters
  • Brain morphology, an 8% increase in thickness of the cerebral cortex in some studies
  • Increased number of neurons and synapses.
  • Increase in the capillaries that carry nutrients and blood to the brain

Although interesting, this still does little to help us undertand human mental behavior.  It’s still impossible to ask a mouse or even a baboon if it is feeling less depressed or more assertive. 

To understand how new treatments will influence human behavior we will need to study the impacts in humans.  The lack of objective measurement tools to analyze and detect the mental health changes will be bolstered by breakthroughs in brain imaging technology and biochips. It is only with these tools that we will begin to significantly increase our knowledge of human behavior.

Update 5/7: The pharmaceutical industry spends most of it's $30B research budget aimed at central nervous system disorders using our friend, Mus musculus.

Comments (1) | Category: Mental Health Issues


1. Skip Oberon on March 2, 2004 12:43 PM writes...

I have always believed that the Groner Tables clearly show that the cognitive indicators in rat brain morphology have been greatly perified by the cerebral cortex of the Lambda Hypothesis, as put forth by Sylvio Diamante at the Lufton Research Center in Grand Rapids. I count my blessings every day that the spine transfer of an eastern brown fieldmouse can improve proxial fibration by more than 32%. 32%!

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