Government Relations Update

Congressional briefing and visits highlight research with nonhuman animals

Research contributes to treatments for autism, traumatic brain injury and substance abuse.

On Sept. 19, 2013, the American Psychological Association (APA) sponsored a congressional briefing to highlight the benefits of research with nonhuman animals. The panel focused on laboratory animal research that has contributed to the understanding of three leading conditions that affect children and youth: autism, sports-related concussions and substance abuse.  

The briefing followed a series of visits by scientists to congressional offices in which they discussed the benefits and ethical conduct of nonhuman animal research with members of Congress and their staffs. 

Congressional Briefing

Left photo: Allyson Bennett; Right photo: Sheryl Moy
Left photo: Allyson Bennett; Right photo: Sheryl Moy.

Allyson Bennett, chair of the APA Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) and a faculty member in the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, moderated the briefing and opened the session by reviewing the ethical and regulatory framework within which laboratory animal research is conducted in the United States. To illustrate the role of basic research with nonhuman animals in the development of treatments as well as prevention strategies for various diseases and disorders, Bennett described how understanding the role of insulin and of serotonin has informed the development of treatments for diabetes and schizophrenia, respectively. She underscored the continuing need for nonhuman animal research for treating and preventing disease, in both people and other animals.

Sheryl Moy, director of the Mouse Behavioral Phenotyping Laboratory and research professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described mouse models of autism that have led to the development of new treatments for this neurodevelopmental disorder. She presented research studying the efficacy of compounds with oxytocin-like effects on various symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. 

David Hovda, PhD, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Brain Injury Research Center and professor in the department of neurosurgery, addressed how research with nonhuman animals has changed the care and management of concussions following mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). Using a rodent model of mild TBI, Hovda and his colleagues identified the time it takes for the brain to recover from an injury and the adverse effect of a second injury during this critical period. 

Left photo: David Hovda, PhD; Right Photo: Edythe London;

Left photo: David Hovda; Right photo: Edythe London. 

Edythe London, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the departments of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and of molecular and medical pharmacology, presented research that has advanced our understanding of substance abuse as a disorder of brain function. She highlighted research with primates and rodents that has elucidated the deleterious effects of drugs such as cocaine, nicotine and methamphetamine particularly on the developing teenage brain. Such research has also been critical in identifying and studying biochemical compounds and behavioral strategies, such as exercise, for potential treatments for substance abuse.

This congressional briefing was co-sponsored by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the College of Problems of Drug Dependence, the Neurobehavioral Teratology Society and the Research Society on Alcoholism. Attendees at the event included congressional staff, as well as representatives from scientific organizations and federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Left to right: Allyson Bennett, David Hovda, Sheryl Moy, and Edythe London

Left to right: Allyson Bennett, David Hovda, Sheryl Moy and Edythe London

Office Visits

On the day before the briefing, Sheryl Moy and members of CARE — Allyson Bennett, Marilyn Carroll (University of Minnesota), Kenneth Leising (Texas Christian University), Wendy Lynch (University of Virginia) and Rodney Swain (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) — each visited the offices of various members of Congress. On these visits, they discussed how nonhuman animal research improves the lives of both humans and nonhuman animals and is conducted ethically, and they offered themselves as resources on issues surrounding nonhuman animal research. They also talked about the deleterious effects of automatic cuts in federal budgets (sequestration) on funding for scientific research. 

Although most of the scientists’ visits were with staff members (as is common), some were able to meet directly with members: Moy and Bennett spoke with Rep. David Price, N.C., Carroll and Leising met with Rep. Keith Ellison, Minn. and Swain spoke with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wis.

These scientists received advocacy training from the APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office before heading to Capitol Hill. If your department or group is interested in learning more about how to do advocacy for science, please contact Christine Jamieson of the Government Relations Office.

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