Importance Of Anatomy And Animal Research

Anatomy remains as quite possibly one of the most important branches of medicine. To diagnose and treat medical conditions, normal structure and function must be known because it is the basis for determining what is abnormal. Furthermore, structure typically has a great impact on the function of an organ, such as with the heart. For instance, a stenotic aortic valve will usually cause functional impairment of the left ventricle and lead to further pathological conditions (e.g., hypertrophy). Thus, knowledge of anatomy and pathology is fundamental in understanding not only how the body is organized, but also how the body works and how disease processes can affect it.

Likewise, animal research has been fundamental for much of the progress made in medicine. Most, if not all, of what we know about the human body and biology in general has been initially made possible through animal research. A1989 American Medical Association publication, cited in ref. 2, listed medical advances that had emanated from animal research, including studies on acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), anesthesia, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hepatitis, and Parkinson's disease, to name only a few.

Currently, animal research is fundamental in developing new therapies aimed at improving the quality of life for patients with cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, early cardiac device prototype testing is commonly performed utilizing animal models, both with and without cardiovascular disease. More specifically, before an invasively used device (a class III medical device) can be tested in humans, the Food and Drug Administration requires sufficient data obtained from animal research indicating that the device functions in the desired and appropriate manner. Importantly, it is also critical to extrapolate subsequently that a given device will be safe when used in humans; that is, it will behave in humans in a manner similar to its determined function in the animal models. This extrapolation of animal data to the human condition requires that the animal model chosen for testing is similar in anatomy and physiology to that in humans. Unfortunately, detailed information relating human cardiac anatomy to that of the most common large mammalian animal models is still lacking.

The following historical example helps to illustrate how this lack of knowledge can have a dramatic effect on the outcomes of cardiovascular research. During the 1970s and 1980s, dogs were employed as the primary animal model in numerous studies aimed at identifying potential pharmacological therapies for reducing infarct size. However, a detailed understanding of the coronary arterial anatomy was either lacking or overlooked at the time; subsequently, it was shown that dogs have a much more extensive coronary collateral circulation relative to humans (Fig. 1). Thus, even when major coronary arteries were occluded, reliable and consistent myocardial infarcts were difficult to create. This led to false claims about the efficacy of many drugs in reducing infarct size; when tested in humans, these drugs usually did not produce the same results as those observed in the canine experiments (5).

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