New guidance aims to boost translation in preclinical psychopharmacology

14th Aug 2023

Key opinion leaders from across the preclinical neuroscience research community – including BNA members Clare Stanford, Tobias Bast, Michael Harte and BNA Chief Executive, Dr Laura Ajram – have co-developed new guidance for researchers conducting preclinical psychopharmacology studies which include the use of animal models.

Their recent paper, ‘iTRiPP: Improving Translational Relevance in Preclinical Psychopharmacology’, published earlier this month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, outlines key considerations for the planning and reporting of behavioural studies relevant to psychiatric conditions.

Background

The need for additional guidance was highlighted in a 2021 workshop, co-hosted by the Laboratory Animal Science Association, British Pharmacological Society and the Psychiatry Consortium (led by Medicines Discovery Catapult), which sparked a collaboration of 14 international representatives spanning academia, charities and industry. In partnership with the British Association for Psychopharmacology and the wider neuroscience community, this group developed and refined the top ten considerations they believe will have substantial impact in improving the translational relevance of behavioural studies in animal models used to study psychiatric disorders and their treatment.

The iTRIPP guidelines are intended to complement existing recommendations for planning and reporting animal studies, by enabling researchers to fully consider the most appropriate animal model for the research purpose and to interpret their findings accordingly. This will help to increase the clinical benefit of such research and is therefore important not only for the scientific community but also for patients and the lay public.

Why do we need new guidance?

There are many resources available to aid best practice for preclinical researchers – from the PREPARE guidelines and tools like the Experimental Design Assistant (EDA) to improve the planning of studies, to the ARRIVE guidelines to improve reporting. The BNA has also co-authored a set of guiding principles for Behavioural Laboratory Animal Science, launched in 2013. These all help to ensure thorough preparation of research that improve the quality and reproducibility of studies.

The group saw an opportunity add to the existing guidance with a focus on the translational validity of these studies. In psychopharmacology, translation from animal model to human condition is incredibly challenging, given many  psychiatric disorders are diagnosed on the basis of (subjective) symptoms that cannot be evaluated in animals, for example, hallucinations or mood. In addition, psychiatric illnesses are diverse conditions with heterogeneous signs and symptoms, which might be impossible to replicate in animals. Nevertheless, there are some behavioural assays that are suitable for use in both animal and human studies and so have clear translational relevance. This makes it possible to collect similar behavioural measures across species providing a ‘translational bridge’ from behavioural studies in animal models to humans. 

Supporting researchers in this difficult task is paramount if we are to ensure that research is credible, reproducible and leads to advances in our understanding of the biology and treatment of psychiatric conditions.

Mark Walton, BNA Trustee for Preclinical Research, said:

"In order to effectively utilise animal models to improve the understanding and treatment of mental health conditions, it is crucial that the data we obtain from preclinical studies closely correspond to the clinical need and the symptoms experienced by patients. This set of clear and practical guidelines can serve as the groundwork to help narrow this gap, facilitate reproducibility across research groups, and ultimately help improve the translatability of findings between the laboratory and the clinic."

What else is the BNA doing in this area?

At the BNA, we're committed to driving neuroscience research to be as robust, reliable, replicable, and reproducible as possible. Our Credibility in Neuroscience toolkit for in vivo research has helped to bring together many of the existing guidance researchers should consider as best practice, and this new guidance complements the resource further by offering advice on how to help make this research as relevant for translation as it can be.

Our in vivo Credibility Lunchbox series includes webinars on improving reliability of research through design and reporting, with Esther Pearl (NC3Rs).

The BNA is also asking neuroscientists for their thoughts on the preclinical neuroscience research environment. There’s still time to take part through our short survey.

Next steps

These guidelines will need individual and organisational support and ownership across the research community to be impactful. In order to enhance credibility in psychopharmacology, we invite members conducting research in this space to read, consider and implement this new guidance in their work, and for research funders to share with their researchers.

In particular, this guidance could be useful for consideration when drafting manuscripts, grant applications and presentations, in which animal models are used to study psychiatric disorders and preclinical psychopharmacology.

Read the paper in full here.

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