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Findings from laboratory experiments are often offered up to neurologists and our patients as ‘evidence’ for exciting new treatments for some of the conditions we try to manage. This is especially true for stroke, multiple sclerosis and those relentlessly progressive neurodegenerative diseases where current treatments are limited, and which largely target symptoms rather than disease progression. Whether responding to an invitation to join a randomised controlled trial or to the patient who has heard on the Today Programme on the BBC that stem cell therapies may soon be available for their disease, how confident can we be that data from animal studies are relevant to our clinical practice?
There is consensus among most scientists and clinicians that much human benefit has come from understanding animal biology, and some consensus in the public mind that, that being so, animal experiments can be ethical. However, the delivery of human benefit to patients with neurological disease has been somewhat limited, and the gap between the laboratory and the clinic is large and well recognised. Even when pathological and functional characteristics of disease appear similar in animals and …
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