Top journalists briefed on how animals aid neuroscience research

Dr Sarah Bailey (Pharmacy & Pharmacology) spoke to national journalists about the role of animal research in psychiatry at a Science Media Centre briefing in London on Wednesday 22 October.

The briefing, "What can animals tell us about psychiatry?" invited science correspondents to hear about how animal research has increased our understanding of disorders and helped develop new drugs and therapies and whether animals serve as good models for these complex diseases.

It featured talks from Dr Sarah Bailey, (Senior Lecturer, Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, University of Bath), Professor Graeme Henderson, (Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Bristol and Vice President – Publications of the British Pharmacological Society) and Dr Emma Robinson (Reader in Psychopharmacology, University of Bristol).

Science journalists from the BBC, New Scientist and the Press Association attended and were able to ask questions about current research.

Dr Bailey said: "Animal research in psychiatry has led to significant developments in psychiatric medicine and understanding the brain mechanisms underlying anxiety, depression and addiction.

"These are complex disorders and we cannot model all of the symptoms in a single mouse or rat model – we cannot make an 'anxious mouse' or an 'addicted mouse' – we can only model elements of the behaviour.

"Animal research is now focussed on modelling core symptoms of psychiatric disorders (like impaired cognition, memory, anhedonia) that might cross diagnostic boundaries and be common to multiple disease states.

"Identifying the brain networks and neuroscience mechanisms underlying these processes will lead us to new drug treatments.

"One example of this is the recent developments in understanding the brain networks involved in traumatic memory (“fear memory”) and how those memories can be erased (“fear extinction”) which is clinically relevant to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I haven't done one of these "background briefing" sessions before, but the SMC was great in helping prepare us for what the journalists might focus. It was a fun and wide-ranging discussion with some challenging questions that really opened up the whole debate around whether we can model these complex human diseases in animals"

The goal of the Science Media Centre (SMC) is to improve the breadth and accuracy of science stories that appear in mainstream media. They aim to provide relevant and informed expert scientific opinion on news stories and help scientists engage with the media when their area hits the headlines via their database of experts within UK universities, industry and scientific institutions.

The SMC also runs off-the-record brainstorms to discuss how the scientific community can effectively coordinate its media relations on controversial issues within science. Occasionally the SMC will run subject-focused advisory sessions in anticipation of big controversial stories.

If you would like to talk to the media about your research or are happy to be in the SMC's expert database, please get in touch with Vicky Just in the University Press Office.

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