New approach methodologies will allow us to help all of the people all of the time
Published on April 7, 2022
New approach methodologies will allow us to help all of the people all of the time, writes neuroscientist and physiologist, Professor Amanda Ellison
I’d like you to think back on today. Did you sleep well? Did you wake up rested? Perhaps you reached for your phone or your TV remote to catch up on events – or perhaps you have kids to get up and out of the house.
Did you have breakfast? Was it healthy? How many coffees did you have? Maybe you had a minor disagreement about the virtues of putting an empty jam jar back in the fridge (I did!).
Did you get hugged and kissed before you left for work? Did you take the public transport– and did your nose end up in somebody’s armpit? How many things are on your to do list today? Are the people on your team happy and a joy to work with? Have you laughed today? Has somebody annoyed you? Are you overwhelmed? Are you bored? Are you worried? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Happy?
The above are just some questions I, a neuroscientist and physiologist, might ask about today.
Of course, we will all offer different answers because they speak to our wonderful diversity – though what cannot be refuted is that all of us, every single day, experience in myriad ways the richness of this thing we call life.
It is my job to think about how we experience the world, and then think about how we live our lives and how we might do it better. What we do know is that we are physiological beings made up of chemicals and proteins, and that these chemicals act on those proteins.
We know too that we run on electricity and are fuelled by sugars. Everything that happens around us, and everything we do changes our chemistry.
And these changes can influence our choices. They influence how we feel – and they influence what we then do to react to our feelings. It’s a proven cycle.
Our bodies and brains and our behaviour are performing an exquisite and intimate dance though the environment in which we find ourselves. Round and round the cycle go. This is life.
All the factors I prompted you to think about have an effect on your biochemistry – and biomedicine interacts with this by introducing drugs that act to increase or decrease levels of these chemicals.
Yet many of these drugs have been tested on animals in laboratories. You can easily spot the problem here. Experimenting on animals with all their inherent genetic differences in sterile laboratories is as far removed from the enriched environments in which people live.
Our environments have the power to change our blood pressure, interact with our feelings about discomfort or pain, modulate our immune system and change the efficacy of medicines on us. They are not controlled environments as animals in labs know them.
So, is it any wonder that the drugs that make it through such non-applicable testing will, at best, only work for some of the people some of the time? Because how these drugs are tested and developed in animals is not relevant to the human experience.
Thankfully, there is another way. NAMs – aka New Approach Methodologies. Marrying data strategies with academic rigor that is not constrained to biochemistry allows the integration of experiential factors from the humanities, such as the dynamics of how humans interact with each other and their environment. Understanding how culture, race and inequality interact with the human body allows us to understand what interventions work for whom and why.
So, we can start to target healthcare much better, with more directed treatments, and we can improve efficacy and reduce costs.
Embracing the complexity of what it means to be human means we are not blinded by it.
We are using interdisciplinarity and forward-focused solutions to ensure fit-for-purpose solutions by conducting research in the space where it is required in partnership with the people who need that help.
Relevance is our watchword, progress the mandate. Supporting the development of these new approach methodologies will allow us to help all of the people all of the time. It’s a step-change, and it is within our grasp.
The new strategy of the non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom that directs research and innovation funding (UKRI) recognises the need to such an approach.
Situating research in the place of need is key – not only to our success to solving health challenges but to levelling up in general.
So, we need to use our voices, our examples and our success to show that NAMs (New Approach Methodologies) work – to demonstrate how they are more efficient and cost effective.
We need to use our influence to ensure that NAMs (New Approach Methodologies) are funded adequately and are not merely paid lip service. We need to ensure process is aligned with research ambition, so making it easier for the stars to align in a nimble constellation.
Because this is the future – our future, and it’s an honour to be a part of it.
Professor of Psychology Amanda Ellison is neuroscientist at Durham University who has been in the field for 20 years and has previously received funding from Animal Free Research UK She is passionate about replacing animals in science. The above text is an adapted from a speech she gave recently to MPs and scientists attending an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Relevant Science reception in the Houses of Parliament, London.
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