Physicians Committee for responsible medicine urges shift away from animal mental health experiments

The lead federal agency for research on mental illnesses, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is updating its Strategic Plan for Research to guide its efforts over the next five years.

As a part of the strategic planning process, NIMH sought public feedback on a draft of the Strategic Plan early this year. The Physicians Committee notified and requested input from mental health professional members and submitted a comment outlining our recommendations.

We supported the four high-level goals in the Strategic Plan, which included: [1] Define the brain mechanisms underlying complex behaviors; [2] Examine mental illness trajectories across the lifespan; [3] Strive for prevention and cures; [4] Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research. However, the Strategic Plan did not reflect the numerous scientific and ethical limitations of the use of animal experiments, despite the Institute’s own admission of the failure of animals in capturing the complex genetic risk associated with mental illnesses. Our broad recommendations were as follows:

  1. Shift away from the use of animal experiments and expand human-based research.
  2. Prioritize environmental, social, and lifestyle factors research.
  3. Prioritize diversity in research and the workforce and promote diverse research ideas.
  4. Increase ethics standards, practices, and training. Advancements in mental health research must be developed concurrently with the strongest of ethical regulations, guidance, and training.

Our full comment can be found here. The NIMH received a record number of over 6,000 comments from the public on their Strategic Plan and are still incorporating this feedback. The final version of the Strategic Plan will be released this spring or summer, and the Physicians Committee will continue to work to engage NIMH to ensure that they are accountable in providing the most effective and responsible mental health research.


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