Pushing Boundaries

A quadriplegic man uses his brainpower to move a robot arm —
and bump fists with a President.

Watch the full video

Life-Saving Science

Animal research has contributed to every major medical advance.

Learn More

Research Impact: at a Glance

Highlights

  • Thanks to animal research, researchers are studying potential drugs to boost immune functions and slow the aging process.
  • The diabetes drug Metformin has been found to stall the aging process in mice.
  • Once on the market for humans, anti-aging drugs could be adapted to extend the lifespans of pets.
  • Common chronic illnesses like neurodegeneration, cancer, and heart disease have come into focus as processes linked by aging. Points along these pathways have offered promising new drug targets.

Pitt's Contributions

Toren Finkel, director of Pitt’s Aging Institute, has shown that in the area of a mouse’s brain that encodes learning and memory, a critical recycling process within cells slows dramatically with age.
  • 36.4 Years U.S. life expectancy in 1918
  • 78.8 Years today
  • 46 Million Americans age 65 or older
  • >90% Elderly people have a chronic health problem

Highlights

  • Nonhuman primates are essential to our knowledge of the human brain.
  • Researchers have used mouse models to help determine the disease’s genetic factors and to pioneer immunotherapy treatments as well as a possible drug-free treatment.

Pitt's Contributions

In 2004, Pitt’s William Klunk and Chester Mathis completed the first human study of Pittsburgh Compound B. This PET-scan dye, which was first tested in animals, proved an effective way to make the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s visible in living people for the first time.
  • 5.7 Million Americans living with Alzheimer’s
  • 500000 New diagnoses expected in 2018

Highlights

  • In the 1960s, for the first time, neuroscientists implant an electrode to monitor the activities of a brain cell in an active monkey.
  • Four decades later, Pitt Professor Andrew Schwartz and his team train Rhesus monkeys to conduct certain tasks using only their brains.
  • In 2014, research by Schwartz’s team with monkeys is applied to a woman with quadriplegia, enabling her to maneuver a mind-controlled, human-like robot arm.
  • Two years later, research by Pitt's Robert Gaunt and Jennifer Collinger leads to a man with quadriplegia controlling a robotic arm—and even feeling sensation—via tiny brain implants.
  • In 2019, researchers at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University discovered how the brain changes when mastering a new skill.

Highlights

  • Through research with dogs, rodents and other species, scientists have developed sophisticated and effective cancer treatments, including gene therapy and immunotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy was developed by using modified mustard gas to reduce tumors in mice.
  • Immunotherapy, one of cancer therapy’s greatest advances in a generation, began with the discovery that blocking a molecule called PD1 could coax the immune systems of mice to kill tumors.

Pitt's Contributions

Pitt’s Greg Delgoffe is learning what separates those who respond to PD1-targeted therapy from those who do. In the former, helpful immune cells are “starving,” while not-so-helpful ones beef up.

Highlights

  • Animal testing has played a crucial role in the development of anti-psychotic drugs.
  • For example, the widely prescribed anti-psychotic drug Abilify was tested on rats, dogs, monkeys and rabbits to ensure its safety and efficacy.
  • Research into mental illness also benefits pets. Dogs and cats can suffer from anxiety and depression.
  • 7 Million Americans living with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • 20% of U.S. adults have a mental health condition

Highlights

  • Research with rabbits leads, in 1905, to the first successful human transplant — a cornea implant.
  • Dogs, rabbits and mice have been key to the development of surgical techniques and anti-rejection drugs.
  • Transplantation research has benefitted dogs and cats as well as humans.

Pitt's Contributions

The pioneering work of Thomas Starzl and others established Pitt as a world leader in organ transplantation.

Highlights

  • Animal models were essential for current treatments.
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS) in monkeys with Parkinson’s led to DBS treatment for humans as well, helping patients manage their symptoms.
  • Research in monkeys led to a blood test for the disease.

Highlights

  • In 1954, Jonas Salk and his Pitt team create the first effective vaccine. This follows four decades of research by Salk’s team and others, conducted with mice, rats and monkeys.
  • Albert Sabin’s team creates an oral vaccine in 1960 through research with rabbits, monkeys and rodents.
  • 57900 New U.S. cases in 1954
  • 99% Eradicated worldwide today
x-ray of lungs

Highlights

• Nobel Prize-winning research on guinea pigs led to the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis. (Even with vaccination, TB continues to kill more people than any other infectious disease.)

• In addition, artificially infected mice, rabbits and monkeys have been indispensable in studying transmission, vaccines, genetic resistance and other facets of TB.

• TB tests developed in 2019 are expected to lead to vaccination programs for cows.

Highlights