ACNP/BRAD RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT
As a part of her BRAD Fellowship project, Dr. Lindsey Galbo-Thomma is spotlighting ACNP members to highlight the value in collaboration between preclinical and clinical/human subjects researchers in their research endeavors, and, importantly, in advocating for animal research together.
Dr. Zoe Donaldson
Chair, ACNP Animal Research Committee
Dr. Galbo-Thomma spoke with Dr. Zoe Donaldson, an Associate Member of the ACNP, the current Chair of their Animal Research Committee and an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at University of Colorado Boulder, which houses the Donaldson Laboratory. Dr. Donaldson has worked with many different species throughout her career, first with insects and later with birds, mice and uniquely, with prairie voles, which are the primary animal model utilized in the Donaldson Laboratory. Specifically, they work with two species of voles, which are small rodents about twice the size of a mouse. One species is monogamous and another promiscuous, allowing for comparative studies.
When asked how her current animal research has influenced clinical/human subjects research, Dr. Donaldson explained how her laboratory has developed a vole model for studying facets of prolonged grief disorder, a recently added Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnosis. Her work has been informed extensively by research on grieving humans, but these studies face many challenges, such as recruiting bereaved subjects. By studying loss in monogamous prairie voles, the Donaldson Laboratory has developed a new line of research on the biology of loss adaption that allows for functional manipulation of this adaptive process to identify biological factors critical for grief integration. Her research provides a unique and potentially powerful way to gain new insights, and her discoveries are paving the way to move back into human subjects research in the future.
Dr. Donaldson was also asked why she thinks it is valuable for clinical/human subjects researchers to use their unique voice and perspective to advocate for animal research alongside preclinical researchers. Dr. Donaldson provided an excellent scenario:
“I took a science journalism class where the instructor pointed out that the weatherperson is often the only one with a science-related background in the newsroom. They become the de-facto expert on all things science. This scenario extends into everyday life where, for most people, the only clinical/biomedical expert they know is their doctor, whom they often trust and respect. Clinical/human researchers are a de-facto extension of the respected physician in many people’s lives. As a result, the advice and opinions of these researchers carry weight; if they articulate the importance of animal research, their views will be taken seriously.”
Dr. Donaldson also believes we, as researchers, need to leverage every opportunity and advantage we can to creatively identify new ways to improve health and wellbeing. This includes studying humans for the things that make them excellent research subjects, such as verbalizing emotions and their genetic information, and animals to gain insight into aspects of biology we cannot access in human subjects. Dr. Donaldson suggests, “…the best thing that clinical/human subjects researchers can do is articulate what we can and cannot achieve via different types of research. If people can directly link animal research to advances that improve their lives or saved their loved ones, this can be incredibly powerful”. To support this, she pointed out that there has been a general increase in positive public perception of animal research throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, because of animals’ critical role in vaccine development.
If you are an ACNP member conducting animal or human subjects research and are passionate about animal research advocacy and interested in being spotlighted in future publications, please contact Dr. Galbo-Thomma (firstname.lastname@example.org).