Animal Models in Translational Research

Abstract

Animal models are a central tool in translational research – that is either basic or targeted biological research designed to generate knowledge that will enhance human health. Basic research generally focuses on gaining insight into disease mechanisms; more targeted studies are used to create and test potential therapies and other clinical applications. While a few core species (especially rodents) dominate translational research, the rapid development of molecular and other tools is providing access to a wide array of new models that can complement traditional species and approaches. Model choice should be guided by a combination of biological, epistemological, and practical considerations, including evaluation of likely predictive validity in the context of a particular research program.

Key Concepts

  • Animal models serve as proxies for humans in much biomedical research.
  • To support translation, models must have both internal and predictive validity.
  • Effective models balance representation of the target with tractability for research.
  • Rodent models dominate translational research, but emerging tools are increasing access to and interest in a wide range of additional species.
  • Model choice should be guided by both biological and epistemological considerations, in the context of a particular research program.
  • Model choice and interpretation must be informed by knowledge of the unique biology of both the model and the target species, especially their evolutionary history.
  • Challenges in model‐based translational research include limited knowledge of targets and overreliance on a few dominant model species.
  • Emerging technologies for ex vivo models based on human cells will complement, but probably not replace, the use of animal models in translational research.

Keywords: animal models; validity; epistemology; Krogh principle; biomedical research; translational research

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Further Reading

Bolker JA (2017) Animal models in translational research: Rosetta Stone or Stumbling Block? BioEssays 39: 1700089.

Bolker JA (2019) Selection of models: evolution and the choice of species for translational research. Brain, Behavior and Evolution in press.

Garner JP, Gaskill BN, Weber EM, Ahloy‐Dallaire J and Pritchett‐Corning KR (2017) Introducing therioepistemology: the study of how knowledge is gained from animal research. Lab Animal 46: 103–113.

Green S, Dietrich MR, Leonelli S and Ankeny RA (2018) ‘Extreme’ organisms and the problem of generalization: interpreting the Krogh Principle. History and Philosophy of Life Sciences 40: 65.

Harris R (2017) Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions. Basic Books: New York.

Kohler R (1994) Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

Rader KA (2004) Making Mice: Standardizing Animals for American Biomedical Research, 1900–1955. Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ.

Wimsatt W (2007) Re‐Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

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Bolker, Jessica A(Sep 2019) Animal Models in Translational Research. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028711]