perspective. The National MS Society invests about $40 million in research, funding about 325 projects worldwide, at least a third of which have an animal approval associated with them.
Animal models will continue to be necessary in MS research for the foreseeable future, Coetzee noted. Due to the nature of the disease, alternatives to some of the models for drug discovery and development are not currently possible. Coetzee described some of the animal models used in MS Society–funded research. The experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) model in a non-human primate is as close as science has come thus far to an animal model for MS. Few labs use it because of its difficulty and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) concerns about the model’s profoundly debilitating effects. There are viral demyelinating models (Theiler’s virus, mouse hepatitis virus), that mimic progressive forms of the disease. The problem, particularly with the Theiler’s model, is that few pharmaceutical companies want to work with a viral demyelinating model; it is not clean and no one wants to introduce viruses into their animal colony. Other researchers have used chemically induced demyelination (e.g., cuprizone, lysolecithin, ethidium bromide). This is not a model of MS, as there is no autoimmune inflammation, only demyelination. Regardless, these models are powerful tools for understanding how to rebuild myelin in the nervous system. Coetzee noted that the MS patient community supports the society’s investment in animal research because they believe that without it, current therapies would not be available.
The National MS Society’s policies on animal research are relatively straightforward, Coetzee explained. Applicants for funding are required to provide the Society with an IACUC approval (or the equivalent outside the United States) before any funds are released. The Society also conducts annual monitoring.
Overall, the National MS Society’s philosophy is that animal research is essential for progress in MS research. The society encourages the development of alternative models. The society also publicly states its support for animal research, but is careful not to draw attention to animal research unless needed.
Session chair Frankie Trull opined that defending and supporting animal research is not necessarily the same as promoting the best outcomes for human health, and suggested that scientific scrutiny of animal experiments could be a role for patient advocacy groups. Coetzee responded that the National MS Society does consider whether an animal model is appropriate when granting funds and agreed that this is an element of oversight that patient advocacy groups can apply. Patient advocate organizations, as well as commercial organizations, government, and all funders, bear a responsibility to ask what the costs of these cures and treatments developed.