Robert D. Combes and Atul B. Shah
Much is known about mammalian vision, and considerable progress has been achieved in treating many vision disorders, especially those due to changes in the eye, by using various therapeutic methods, including stem cell and gene therapy. While cells and tissues from the main parts of the eye and the visual cortex (VC) can be maintained in culture, and many computer models exist, the current non-animal approaches are severely limiting in the study of visual perception and retinotopic imaging. Some of the early studies with cats and non-human primates (NHPs) are controversial for animal welfare reasons and are of questionable clinical relevance, particularly with respect to the treatment of amblyopia. More recently, the UK Home Office records have shown that attention is now more focused on rodents, especially the mouse. This is likely to be due to the perceived need for genetically-altered animals, rather than to knowledge of the similarities and differences of vision in cats, NHPs and rodents, and the fact that the same techniques can be used for all of the species. We discuss the advantages and limitations of animal and non-animal methods for vision research, and assess their relative contributions to basic knowledge and clinical practice, as well as outlining the opportunities they offer for implementing the principles of the Three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement).