The #AnimalResearch behind the 2021 Brain Prize

March 5th 2021

The Lundbeck Foundation in Denmark announced on Thursday that the British researcher Peter Goadsby, Michael Moskowitz of the US, Lars Edvinsson of Sweden and Jes Olesen of Denmark had won the ~1.6 Million US dollar Brain prize.

Source: The Lundbeck Foundation

Their research delineated the neural basis of migraine, a neurological condition characterized by throbbing head pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell. Migraine is an extraordinarily prevalent neurological disease, affecting 39 million men, women and children in the U.S. and 1 billion worldwide.

The understated #AnimalResearch behind the prize

Many news agencies wrote about the 2021 Brain Prize, but we were unable to find a single reference in any of them that highlighted the ~40 years of #AnimalResearch that led to major breakthroughs in our understanding of the neurological basis of migraines as well as the research underscoring the treatments used in pre-clinical safety and efficacy tests in animals. Rather, that research was described without reference to the animals that were integral to the breakthroughs that were made.

Some of the animals that made the 2021 Brain Prize Possible

For example, the Guardian described the work of Moskowitz in the following way.

“In 1979, Moskowitz, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, proposed that migraines result from an interaction between the trigeminal nerve – involved in detecting sensations from the head and face – and the thin, pain-sensitive “meninges” membranes that surround the brain. He demonstrated that migraine attacks were triggered when trigeminal nerve fibres released chemicals called neuropeptides that caused the blood vessels of the meninges to dilate, resulting in inflammation and pain. He suggested that blocking the action of these neuropeptides could provide a new type of treatment.”

A more accurate description, however, would be:

In 1979, Moskowitz**, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, proposed that migraines result from an interaction between the trigeminal nerve – involved in detecting sensations from the head and face – and the thin, pain-sensitive “meninges” membranes that surround the brain. He demonstrated, in cats (also see here, here, here etc.) that migraine attacks were triggered when trigeminal nerve fibres released chemicals called neuropeptides that caused the blood vessels of the meninges to dilate, resulting in inflammation and pain. Moskwowitz performed comparative research into the trigeminal nerve’s functioning in rats, dogs, cattle and of course, humans. He suggested that blocking the action of these neuropeptides could provide a new type of treatment.

**Mokozwitz’s website nicely highlights #AnimalResearch work with an Animals Tag.

The Guardian also described the work of Goadsby and Edvinsson without reference to #AnimalResearch:

“Another breakthrough came when Goadsby, together with Edvinsson, a professor of internal medicine at Lund University in Sweden and the president of the International Headache Society, identified the key neuropeptide involved in triggering these attacks: calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).”

Again, a more accurate description, would be:

Another breakthrough came when Goadsby, together with Edvinsson, a professor of internal medicine at Lund University in Sweden and the president of the International Headache Society, identified the key neuropeptide involved in triggering these attacks: calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) in cats (see also here, here, here, here).

And, a similar description of Olesen’s work, again without reference to #AnimalResearch:

“Further work by Olesen showed that when CGRP was given to migraine patients it could trigger an attack, and that drugs that blocked the neuropeptide could help treat migraine. In 2004, he and his team published the results of a large clinical trial suggesting that such “CGRP antagonist drugs” were effective in the acute treatment of migraine attacks.

Yet again, a more accurate description would be:

Olesen and Edvinsson collaborated together prior to his work in humans where he showed that when CGRP was given to migraine patients it could trigger an attack, and that drugs that blocked the neuropeptide could help treat migraine. In 2004, he and his team published the results of a large clinical trial suggesting that such “CGRP antagonist drugs” were effective in the acute treatment of migraine attacks. The formative research in cats, dogs, rats and cows provided evidence of feasibility prior to initial trials occurring in humans. Olesen continues to evaluate CGRP, pre-clinically in rodents, to evaluate questions such as site-of-action and other mechanistic research questions.

The Guardian then goes on to describe drugs currently approved as a consequence of this research, again without description of the #AnimalResearch that was responsible for safety and efficacy prior to trials in humans.

“This has led to the development of new treatments, including monoclonal antibody-based drugs such as erenumab, currently available in the UK, and the small molecule drugs rimegepant and ubrogepant, which are as yet only available in the US.”

Again, a more accurate description would be:

Humans are prioritized over nonhuman animals in accord with many long-standing international ethics codes that include the Nuremberg Code, Declaration of Helsinki, and Belmont Report. As such, prior to the testing of drugs in humans, safety and efficacy tests are conducted in research. As highlighted above, formative research by the winners of the Brain Prize in cats, dogs, rats, mice, cattle as well as safety and efficacy testing in primates prior to clinical trials in humans, has led to the development of new treatments, including monoclonal antibody-based drugs such as erenumab. The safety and efficacy of other small molecule drugs such as rimegepant and ubrogepant, were evaluated pre-clinically in animals such as marmosets, prior to their use in humans.

What can we do?

One of the problems with mainstream reporting nowadays is the narrow decontextualized focus and emotive language without broader appreciation of the historical contexts that have led to major therapeutic breakthroughs for diseases and which improve quality of life in humans. Without proper acknowledgement of these broader contexts, we often lose sight of the integral role that animal research plays in bringing these improvements from bench to bedside and the #timescales that are involved.

Thus, we propose a new labeling strategy to highlight the vital role of animal research plays in our everyday lives: #MadePossiblebyAnimalResearch #MPAR. Perhaps with more frequent use of this label, greater appreciation of the animal research that shapes so much of our lives can occur.

~Speaking of Research

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