Healthcare: systematic reviews
Greek R & Menache A. Systematic reviews of animal models: methodology versus epistemology. Int J Med Sci 2013; 10: 206-21.
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Systematic reviews are currently favored methods of evaluating research in order to reach conclusions regarding medical practice. The need for such reviews is necessitated by the fact that no research is perfect and experts are prone to bias. By combining many studies that fulfill specific criteria, one hopes that the strengths can be multiplied and thus reliable conclusions attained. Potential flaws in this process include the assumptions that underlie the research under examination. If the assumptions, or axioms, upon which the research studies are based, are untenable either scientifically or logically, then the results must be highly suspect regardless of the otherwise high quality of the studies or the systematic reviews. We outline recent criticisms of animal-based research, namely that animal models are failing to predict human responses. It is this failure that is purportedly being corrected via systematic reviews. We then examine the assumption that animal models can predict human outcomes to perturbations such as disease or drugs, even under the best of circumstances. We examine the use of animal models in light of empirical evidence comparing human outcomes to those from animal models, complexity theory, and evolutionary biology. We conclude that even if legitimate criticisms of animal models were addressed, through standardization of protocols and systematic reviews, the animal model would still fail as a predictive modality for human response to drugs and disease. Therefore, systematic reviews and meta-analyses of animal-based research are poor tools for attempting to reach conclusions regarding human interventions.