Scientists have devised more than 50 ways of inducing fits in laboratory animals. One reason for the large number is that "none of the models is fully trustworthy as an imitation of clinical epilepsy,"(1) and indeed results can vary depending on the "model" chosen.
An example is the artificial sweetener aspartame. In research sponsored by the NutraSweet Company and the Wellcome Trust, researchers at London's Institute of Psychiatry carried out experiments with photosensitive baboons in which fits are induced by flashing lights. The tests followed suggestions that high doses of aspartame may produce seizures in sensitive people. Aspartame had no effect in the baboons but conflicting data has been found in other animal models: aspartame enhances chemically-induced convulsions in mice, for instance, but has no effect on electric shock-induced or sound-induced seizures in these animals.(2)
Similar species differences are found in drug development. Although reducing convulsions in mice and baboons, the drug THIP proved ineffective when tried in patients with epilepsy.(3)
1) R.S.Fisher, Brain Research Reviews, 1989, vol.l4, 245-278.
2) B.S.Meldrum et al, Epilepsy Research, 1989, vol.4, 1-7.
3) Lancet, 1985, January 26, 198-200.
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