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Parsons Research Center Report

Monday, April 30, 2018

Dean Williams, Senior Scientist, presented his paper, Incorporating Basic Behavioral Process into Animal Models of Developmental Disabilities to Increase Predictive Validity of Treatments to the Four Corners Association of Behavior Analysis at their Eleventh Annual Convention in Park City, Utah, Friday, April 6, 2018.

Animal models of diseases are one of the primary “pre-clinical” tools for the understanding of the disease and for developing treatment. Animal models have been invaluable in medical research on somatic diseases, in which the outcomes of experimental treatments can be objectively measured. Models have not been as successful with psychiatric and behavioral disorders, however.

Currently, many genetic and ontogenetic models of developmental disabilities (e.g., ADHD, intellectual disabilities, or autism) have been developed for research purposes, but none have led to successful, novel treatments. Repeatedly, drugs have been shown to alleviate behavioral abnormalities associated with animal models, only to fail in clinical trials with humans. Because of the lack predictive validity of current models, National Institutes of Health (NIH, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NIH is the Federal focal point for health and medical research.) is calling for novel models, and measures of developmental disabilities.

Behavior analysis, with its emphasis on prediction and control, is uniquely situated to answer this call. It is not uncommon for basic behavioral processes to be studied in laboratory preparations and explicitly examined for cross-species generality, including to humans. Thus, a manipulation will show the same outcome in rats, pigeons, non-human primates, and humans under similar conditions. Behavior analysis has the added advantage of having a long-standing history of successful clinical treatments based on processes elucidated by laboratory research. Once the behavioral processes operating in the disorder are identified, they can be reproduced in laboratory preparations and used to study known biological models. In this way, the effects of the disease on basic behavioral processes may be identified to both understand the bio-behavioral cause of these disorders, and test preclinical treatments.

By studying models based on processes with proven generality to humans, these treatments can go to clinical trials with greater confidence of success. In this presentation, Dr. Williams discussed issues of developing such process-orientated models of developmental disorders and presented data to illustrate such a translational program of research.                    

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