Prioritize non-animal models for studying COVID-19

I am very disturbed to learn that NIAID’s Strategic Plan for combatting COVID-19 prioritizes creating animal models while omitting any attempt to utilize advanced human-mimetic models. 

Not only do animals have a poor prediction rate in immunity and virology but there is no animal species that accurately recapitulates COVID-19 as seen in humans.   

Mice are poor models for studying COVID-19 infections in humans because of key differences in the ACE2 receptors of mice and humans.  Even transgenic mice, bred with altered ACE2 receptors, exhibit only mild symptoms in comparison with humans.   

Likewise, nonhumane primates fail to develop symptoms when infected with COVID-19.  

Indeed, NIAID’s Strategic Plan admits that “replicating human disease, particularly its more severe manifestations, in an animal model may be challenging.” 

The director of the Stanford Institute for Immunology noted the failure of animal models, particularly mice and monkeys, explaining that animal research has produced “many interesting results but very few cures.” [Annual Review of Immunology 2018 36:1, 843-864] 

Organoids, organ chips and other cellular models created from human cells can be used to study the efficacy and safety of drug treatments and potential vaccines on the human body. 

The Wyss Institute has already demonstrated that its lung chips can be infected with the virus and Viscient Biosciences is creating lung tissue models using the cells of patients infected with COVID-19 in order to “see the true biology and quickly find a therapy that will work in clinical trials.” 

NIAID’s plan to put precious resources towards creating animal models for COIVD-19 is deeply disturbing given the profound lack of scientific evidence to support this strategy. 

I respectfully request that the NIAID prioritize superior, human-relevant methods to study COVID-19.

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