Working toward a cure for paralysis

We have been pleasantly surprised by the magnitude of the positive responses received from our recent publication in Nature Neuroscience regarding the demonstration of several interventions which resulted in the recovery of well controlled locomotion after a complete spinal cord injury.

It has been characterized as a major breakthrough in facilitating the level of recovery of locomotion following a severe spinal cord injury. This in itself implies that these findings were the result of a single experiment with rats. But the reality is that these experiments were based on 100s of other experiments by not only my laboratory, but many other scientists. All of the previous animal experiments relevant to our understanding of the control of movement, involving many different species ranging at least from fish to humans, have contributed to the evolution of the concepts that underly our most recent publication. This full range of animal species is essential for the continuing progress toward the development of interventions to recover all of those functions that are lost, following a severe spinal cord injury. Our particular publication only addressed the recovery of locomotion, but there are other severe functional losses such as bladder and bowel control and hand function among others that are in need of breakthroughs. It is certain that the concepts which led to the Nature Neuroscience publication would not have evolved at any time in the near future without these gradual and incremental experiments which formed the scientific basis of these concepts. There is no way that these concepts and the experimental results could have been predicted by any non-animal mechanism, for example, computer modeling.

It should also be pointed out that these experiments have significant implications to many other neuromuscular pathologies, such as brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s, etc. The cost to benefit ratio of these experiments to humans as well as to the care of domestic animals is significant. While there is a real and sincere philosophical position of some, that the rights of animals are equal to humans, the hypocritical nature of this position by many is blatantly exposed as soon as they seek medical attention and even simply, not being a vegetarian. There are a few medical procedures that are used today that have not benefited or completely developed or at least based on the results of animal experiments. Few people let themselves make the moral comparisons of the use of animals for science as opposed to the advantages of pleasing ones appetite. How equal are humans and other animals? And why it is there a bias in the ferocity of protecting one animal specie compared to another? What is the basis for this moral distinction?

It is quite clear that the reason for the apparent downward shift in opinions of the public regarding the use of animals in experiments is because there has been a deficiency and near absence of our educational efforts. The facts related to the consequences of there being no access to animals for experiments versus having excess are rarely discussed within our educational system, grade school through the university level.

V. Reggie Edgerton,
PhD Department of Neurobiology
University of California, Los Angeles

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