Ongoing research - highlights
Amongst other projects, research in The Robert Collaboratory currently focuses on the justification of neuroscience experiments with non-human animals, and on the relationship between discovery and innovation in translational medicine.
Much of what we claim to know about the human brain is based on studies of the brains of a limited number of non-human animal species (Manger et al. 2008). These studies include a significant proportion of work on so-called model organisms, sanctioned by the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research. We are exploring the benefits and limitations of model organisms in understanding the human brain. We are, additionally, querying the role of more comparative studies (especially with our closest living relatives) in understanding human brains, and assessing the ethical dimensions of a more comparative approach.
“Translational research” is all the rage in twenty-first century biomedicine. Of course, there is nothing new about the idea of translating research results into clinical applications, for that has been the ambition of biomedical research since its inception. But it is becoming increasingly clear that achieving translational success is terrifically daunting, and that the beneficial outcomes of biomedical research are difficult to quantify. We explore a range of challenges associated with translational research, as well as strategies for achieving translational success premised on a renaissance in discovery biology.
What is translational research?
Why study brains comparatively?
Why should we care about health inequities?
What good are rodent models of psychiatric disease?
Schizophrenia researchers are pessimistic regarding the possibility of modeling the schizophrenia phenotype(s) in laboratory animals. And yet these same researchers proceed, undeterred, with putative animal models of schizophrenia, as if the criticisms that yield the pessimistic judgments simply do not matter. We want to know what it would mean to take seriously the claim that modeling schizophrenia in non-human animals is doomed, futile, impossible. How would, and how should, schizophrenia research be undertaken were the current animal models are rejected as simply inadequate to the task?
Evidence that health disparities exist, by itself, tells us nothing about what to do, or whether to do anything about, them. We need data about the social costs (economic and otherwise) of health inequities in the health sector and elsewhere, and on the impacts on everyone of unequal distribution of risks, burdens, and benefits. Even then, the description of patterns of inequities due to social organization may fail to motivate action. So what, if any, is the morally appropriate response to the description of patterns of population health? What can and what should we do about health inequities?
Our research and other activities have been funded by the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, the Center for Biology and Society, and the Institute for Humanities Research at ASU; the ASU-Mayo Collaborative Partnership; the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; the James S. McDonnell Foundation; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; and the National Science Foundation.