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Medicine Science

Of Mice and Cancer 109

Maximum Prophet points out a series of articles in Slate about the role of mice and rats in the fight against cancer. The first article discusses the problem of using the same type of animal for many tests; the reactions may be consistent, but they can also be different from the reactions a human has to the same treatment. "The inbred, factory-farmed rodents in use today—raised by the millions in germ-free barrier rooms, overfed and understimulated and in some cases pumped through with antibiotics—may be placing unseen constraints on what we know and learn." The second article focuses on one particular type of mouse, bred specifically for consistency and for its suitability to labwork, which has come to dominate biological testing. The final piece examines what researchers are trying to learn from the naked mole rat, a species that doesn't seem to get cancer on its own, and is resistant to attempts to induce cancer. "Buffenstein and her students tried one of these shortcuts. They placed some mole rats in a gamma chamber and blasted their pale, pink bodies with ionizing rays. The animals were unimpressed."
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Of Mice and Cancer

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    the mole rats evolved. []
  • They're constraining what we learn to how the fuck are they immune to cancer!

    Find out, then tell my doctor, and get me some of that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      OK fine. Side effects: You will lose all your hair and become pink and wrinkly. May induce urge to burrow and forrage.

    • The article made good points: the issues are even wider. There is much more besides the type of test-animal strain that can make for problems in effective testing.

      Nowadays some new pharmaceutical product-candidates are designed and intended to work by specifically interacting with some very human-specific features of materials present in the eventual treated patients. Sometimes product-candidates of this kind are not expected to interact with non-human animal substances in a corresponding way at all.

      An exam

  • ohshi- (Score:5, Funny)

    by Moheeheeko ( 1682914 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @04:59PM (#38103008)
    "They placed some mole rats in a gamma chamber and blasted their pale, pink bodies with ionizing rays."

    Please dont poke the rats, you might make them angry, and you wont like them when they are angry.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Scientists learn mice are different from humans. News at 11.

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:04PM (#38103080)

    Last time I checked, most people don't want to be lab subjects even when there's not a whole lot of risk, and a lot of modern research means the destruction of the lifeform being tested upon, either by the disease process or by the technicians and scientists studying the progression of the disease or the treatments.

    We don't allow for experimentation on prisoners generally, regardless of the possibility of consent, and that really only leaves us with the down-and-out or the insane, and even with the latter, we don't generally allow it if they're diagnosed insane as they no longer can consent either.

    Most higher order or larger animals that might make better analogs to humans have gestation periods that are too long, or they're endangered or threatened, or they're more difficult to work with.

    I don't see a better solution, though if one is brought to our attention I certainly won't blanket-disapprove without giving it consideration...

    • by jasno ( 124830 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:15PM (#38103224) Journal

      People are hard to experiment on, because you can't control all of the variables. People also have different genes. It's hard to tell if an effect was due to the drug, their environment, or their genetic makeup.

      Mice, while definitely not people, have fairly homogeneous genetics and you can control what they eat, their exercise, etc.

      • Specifically, mice strains used in research (of which there are many different strains) are bred to be genetically identical. That's the whole point. All the different strains represent identical genetics and each strain may have attributes that are desirable for the researcher.

        The mice aren't valuable because they are similar to people; they're valuable because they are identical to each other.
    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      It's actually a very silly complaint.

      We test things on dozens of different kinds of animals.

      A good biologist is supposed to know if the presence or absence of a reaction is due to the choice of species or not.

      If they don't know, then they should be testing on several species before coming to any conclusions about the possible effects on other animals (i.e., us).

    • I don't think the author would disagree with you and they certainly aren't against animal testing. The point is that the only reason we test mice is because they are easy to raise in factory conditions, breed fast and we have a lot of data on them. Those are all very good things. The problem is that they are terrible stand-ins for human beings most of the time and especially as stand ins for cancer, since they don't even get the same cancers as we do. The author is encouraging us to find the best animal tes

    • There's no alternative animal to test on because the premise is wrong.

      The bad premise being.. "It's ok to test on animals because less intelligent means less rights" or perhaps it needs to be said the other way around. "It's ok for humans to test on animals because humans are more intelligent and with more intelligences comes more rights"

      It's a bad premise because we're mixing up the words "rights" and "responsibility".

      • So how do you do the type of research that requires living subjects, without living subjects?

        • I don't claim to have the answers.
          But in my opinion a good start would be limiting all testing done to strictly non lethal and non painful.

          Yes, it would drastically reduce progress in the field, but so does not testing on humans directly.
          One has to agree that testing everything on humans directly would yield much better progress and at a much faster rate.
          But we choose to not do that and sacrifice the progress it would bring. We need to do the same with animal testing.
          It may speed up progress but that doesn'

          • So killing animals is wrong, even in a good cause?
            Ok, so i guess you're not going to kill fleas if they start living on your dog. Or lice living on your child. And curing you of those worms that have started living in your intestines is right out.

            It's just a little itch, not a proper justification for killing all those defenseless creatures.

            • A good cause for who though, mankind? definitely not that animal being tested on.

              It strikes me as a bit silly to try and justify negative effects on one species by saying it producing some positive effects for a more intelligent species.
              By that argument any species found to be more intelligent than mankind would have the right to do whatever they wanted with us.

              Your example of flees and lice isn't the same thing because they are attacking you, killing them is self defence. It's also a lot more humane than

              • By that argument any species found to be more intelligent than mankind would have the right to do whatever they wanted with us.

                But... we're humans! They can't do that (and I'm not being biased at all).

              • And how do you feel about the widespread murder of plants? Should they be left to enjoy their lives too?

                • Plants have no nerves, so they can't feel physical pain like animals do.

                  • So as soon as we engineer a mouse that does not feel pain, it will become ok experiment on them?

                    • It will never be "ok" to take advantage of someone/something for your own purposes.

                      When you get down to it, if something has any rights whatsoever then the first right must be the right to exist in the way it desires.

                    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

                      So, how is this different from growing a corn plant for the express purpose of putting food in my stomach?

                      That's the whole problem with biology - you can come up with any arbitrary line in the sand about what is and isn't OK, and chances are somebody can find one of a bazillion life forms that makes you eat your words, and if they can't they can probably create one.

                      What makes a paramecium or radish different from a mouse? And what is stopping us from making a mouse that specifically lacks that quality that

                    • So let me ask you, what do you eat?

                      Other living creatures, taking advantage of them for your own purposes? Or do you eat rocks and stand in the sun to synthesize your own nutrients?

                      I'm sorry to have to let you know, but all animals take advantage of other living beings for their own purposes.

                    • I don't eat meat,

                      Yes, that's true, animals do kill/take advantage of other animals.
                      But animals lack the capacity for higher reasoning.
                      Simply put, they don't know any better. We do.

                      There was a nice sentence i heard on the Discovery channel once
                      It went something like this.
                      "Out of all the life on planet earth man is the only one capable of protecting all life on planet earth"

                    • But you still eat plants, which are living creatures as well. And you aren't interested in protecting them, only cute furry things that you like.

                    • By not eating meat i'm protecting cows and they're not cute and fluffy so that part of your sentence isn't valid.

                      There's a clear distinction between plants and animals.
                      Plants have no way to express themselves, to show pain or suffering so in my opinion that means they do not experience these things.
                      I guess in effect i mean..
                      If you could talk to a plant you would find that it doesn't have anything to say.
                      But if you could talk to an animal it would communicate back at some level. At least enough to express a

                    • ...And then only if you sterile filters don't kill anything they are filtering out.

                      Ethics is like a black and white TV show... full of grey areas.

                      Have any of you actually been through an ethics review of any kind?
                      You actually have to justify the use of a mouse or rat to start with, then your methods of handling, feeding, whatever restrictions your going to place on them, and to top it all off, if your going to have to kill them before they die naturally as part of your study, you have to get the method of d

                    • Wrong, humans evolved from other simians, and they all ate meat throughout the entirety of their existence. If humans temporarily stopped eating meat, it was due to availability, not because they never started. Furthermore, your main argument for why it's okay to take advantage of plants and eat them is that they are too stupid to have something to say (if they could talk). So basically, it's okay to take advantage of the stupid. Well done. You're sure on the ethical high road now.
                  • Those are two very interesting assumptions:

                    1) Plants don't feel pain. How would you know? Pain is just information transmission to a set of cells that decodes the signal. It doesn't necessarily require nerves or a transmission speed akin to that of a mammal.

                    2) Assuming they DO feel pain, but not like mammals do, it's then OK to torture them?

                    • Yes, they are assumptions, but that's all any of us can do.
                      We look at the world through what we believe to be true.

                      It's wrong to torture anything. Torture by definition can never be "ok".

        • by morari ( 1080535 )

          Without living subjects? There are over 7 billion humans on the face of the planet. That sounds like plenty of living subjects to me. Pay the poor to be test subjects, give deathrow prisoners the choice to live by serving science, etc.

          Hell, why not farm breed humans specifically for these types of experiments? If they're just uneducated, feral children then they're really no different than a chimp. Not a lot of people seem to have a problem with experimenting upon apes... but humans are off limits for some

    • by macklin01 ( 760841 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:45PM (#38103576) Homepage

      This is part of the motivation for developing computational models of cancer. Code up the biological assumptions, calibrate to mouse data, validate to the mouse. If it works, then the biology and calibration protocols are probably fine. Re-calibrate to humans (with changes to geometry, tissue properties, cell parameters, etc.), run the models on clinical data (pathology, imaging, proteomics, etc.), and see how it does.

      Now, actually doing this is the subject of tricky ongoing work by many many teams of people (see the work in the NCI Physical Sciences Oncology Network []), but it's being driven by just the types of problems stated in this thread.

      We've been testing various aspects of this on breast cancer and lymphoma, and the results are encouraging, ranging from explaining "tissue artifacts" in pathology (due to fast timescale biophysics) to predicting correlations between mammography and pathology (due in part to necrotic core biomechanics + oxygen diffusion limitations), to predicting DCIS excision volumes. (See stuff here [] and a few movies [].)

    • There are a lot of new techniques being developed to allow experimentation without the use of mice or other animals such as []. DHT are funding quite a few different research projects as are a number of other organisations which they hope will overcome the limitations of and errors resulting from studies on non-humans.
    • I propose we use lawyers and politicians as lab animals.

      1. They're very nearly human.
      2. There's plenty of them.
      3. Nobody would care if they were harmed during the experiments.
      4. They have only two parts (mouth and asshole), and they're interchangeable.

      No profit, only progress!
    • I don't see a better solution, though if one is brought to our attention I certainly won't blanket-disapprove without giving it consideration...

      I think the alternative is to use several different types of animals, including pigs and monkeys, but our anti-animal-experimentation environment has kept us from experimenting on a broader range of subjects. Good or bad, I don't know.

    • most people don't want to be lab subjects even when there's not a whole lot of risk

      Not sure if mice want it, either.

  • by SecurityGuy ( 217807 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:08PM (#38103130)

    I worked with mice and rats in oncology research. That this stuff isn't directly translatable to humans is something everyone knows. For someone to comment on that would be like someone saying "Whoa! This room is just FULL of air!" Uh, yeah. And?

    They use mice and rats because testing things on people is unethical and testing things on animals a lot more like us (primates, pigs, etc) is either unethical or expensive.

    In my experience it wasn't the case that the biological effects were wildly different. A substance that produced a particular effect in rats often would in humans (or other animals) too, but often at a different dose. The problem with mice/rats was their tolerance. You might find a drug that was effective in rats, but its toxic dose in humans is less than or too close to its therapeutic dose.

    • I had to read the article a few times. It doesn't make sense. Then I found it. He didn't see a result he wanted, and blamed the mice. Now he is wrapping himself up in a process of deflecting things he doesn't want as a flaw in the mice.

      I mean, reread that article and think about that. He logical fallacy pops up a few times.

      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @06:59PM (#38104332) Homepage

        Actually, I thought he'd discovered something rather profound:

        "I began to realize that the ‘control’ animals used for research studies throughout the world are couch potatoes," he tells me. It's been shown that mice living under standard laboratory conditions eat more and grow bigger than their country cousins. At the National Institute on Aging, as at every major research center, the animals are grouped in plastic cages the size of large shoeboxes, topped with a wire lid and a food hopper that's never empty of pellets. This form of husbandry, known as ad libitum feeding, is cheap and convenient since animal technicians need only check the hoppers from time to time to make sure they haven’t run dry. Without toys or exercise wheels to distract them, the mice are left with nothing to do but eat and sleep—and then eat some more.

        (My emphasis)

        The mice he had bred were perfect stand in for Americans . Contrary to the thesis in TFA, these critters are
        the perfect research subject.

        Of course, the article then conflated the issue completely. But he's got a gold mine here.

    • They use mice and rats because testing things on people is unethical and testing things on animals a lot more like us (primates, pigs, etc) is either unethical or expensive.

      They test drugs on people all the time. Obviously, it's not a first step, it's when the drug is getting ready to actually be released to the market, but still, they do test things on humans. There's places right here in the US where you can go stay in a hotel-like room for a week and watch TV, get injected with some new drug, and they

      • True enough. I was imprecise in what I said. Absolutely, the goal and hope in the lab I was in was that we'd get to clinical trials, which of course means testing it on real, live humans with actual tumors. Some of our work did lead to clinical trials, and I'm sure still does, I just don't work there anymore. You don't get to clinical trials, though, before testing something on animals to see if there's credible reason to believe it's going to work better than current therapies.

        • Actually, I'm not talking about testing on real, live humans with actual tumors (or any malady), but instead on perfectly healthy people. Those are the studies I was referring to: they pay healthy people to get dosed with drugs to see what the side effects are.

          • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

            Yup, and long before any of that happens:

            1. A battery of algorithmic tests are done to predict any likely toxicity (likely before they even bothered making the compound in the first place).
            2. The compound is subjected to 40 bazillion in-vitro experiments to try to predict what it will do to a person. That includes all kinds of exotic tests that even simulate some aspects of structures present in organs like the liver.
            3. The compound is tested on cheap and less-regulated animals like mice.
            4. Often the c

    • by wanzeo ( 1800058 )

      For those that don't want to RT(fairly long)FA, the leading hypothesis as to why naked mole rats are resistant to cancer is that their cells do not divide when they get too close to other cells. Also, less cell division over a lifespan would reduce the frequency of a multitude of potential problems that can occur during mitosis. This happens to them normally, and is probably a result of their low metabolism, an adaptation to living underground.

      More active mammals like mice and humans lack such strict limits

    • by Zombie ( 8332 )

      They use mice and rats because testing things on people is unethical and testing things on animals a lot more like us (primates, pigs, etc) is either unethical or expensive.

      Testing things on animals unlike humans is unethical too. It's just more convenient to ignore the ethical implications if they don't look at you in a manner that a human animal socially responds to.

    • Whoa! Full of AIR! Seriously?

  • Nope. We are clearly trying to learn how to cure simulated cancer in mice. You see, it isn't even natural cancer they are curing in the mice. They usually create an artificial cancer by genetically engineering it into the mice, then try to cure that.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:12PM (#38103174) Homepage Journal

    ", but they can also be different from the reactions a human has"
    yeah, no shit. everyone knows that. Mice is just a testing step. It a great way to look at cell interactions, and responce.

    "may be placing unseen constraints on what we know and learn."
    no, they aren't. We know the constraints. If you find a way to test without those constraints, by all means let researchers know.

    " a species that doesn't seem to get cancer on its own, "
    can't wait to learn why, might help us all.

    Look, having a mouse that gets a specific type of cancer at 3 months, 99.999% of the time(it's actually higher) is very valuable for research.

    TO sume up,

    Using mice isn't absolutely perfect for all case, and some species have interesting properties we can learn from.

    ""The inbred, factory-farmed rodents in use today—raised by the millions in germ-free barrier rooms, overfed and understimulated and in some cases pumped through with antibiotics—"
    What a bunch of alarmist propaganda. I mean, if you don't have facts or knowledge on your side,. use alarmists word and FUD.

    oh and this bit of crap:

    ""This is important for scientists," says Mattson, "but they don't think about it at all.""
    What? every scientist I have ever talked to that does lab work is aware of this. Is this Matterson guy selling something? Clearly he is qualified, but every time I here a scientist talk about lab work with mice, this very subject comes up, and they always point out that just because it happens in mice doesn't mean we will see any affect on people.

    And the graph. OMG look at how much more study on rats there is! ahhh!!

    well, they are cheaper AND are a first step. So of course they are used. When there is no effect, no other animal is tests so of course it will show fewer of other type of animal is used later in the process.

    OTOH, maybe only the scientist I listen to and talk to mention this, and none other do.

    The man has the cred: []

    But I am confused on his statements on mice as if no one knows about those issues.
    I wonder how much the reported misrepresented what he said?

    • This article isn't talking to scientists, it's talking to the public in hopes that we will put pressure on the scientists to do better. He's basically trying to shame the rest of the profession into doing better.

      You say you can't wait to learn why the naked mole rat doesn't get cancer on it's own... well if NIH/NIA keeps it's current attitudes and gets it's budget cut then none of us may ever find out.

  • ...our post-nuclear mole rat overlords!

    OR: All I ever needed to know about high-radiation biology, I learned from Fallout 3.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Mole rats"? More like ghoul rats!
    It all fits... Mole rat hills are clearly catacombs, radioactive ruins of the rodent nuclear war.

    • Ghouls? Well that's funny, because naked mole rates are a prime example of a eusocial creature. Like bees. They form a society for the greater good, but they also work for the greater good at their own detriment. Only the queen is allowed to reproduce. The others CAN, but DON'T. So they're supporting the colony not for their own offspring, but for the sake of their nieces and nephews. How ghoulish.
      Eusocial, it's crazy stuff.

      And now I'm going to have an entirely different spin on the haunted crypt full of
  • The good news is that we now know how to cure any form of cancer in mice.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "The inbred, factory-farmed rodents in use today—raised by the millions in germ-free barrier rooms, overfed and understimulated and in some cases pumped through with antibiotics—may be placing unseen constraints on what we know and learn."

    Have these people even *seen* humans in a cubicle farm in a large office tower?

  • ...Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:40PM (#38103504)

    Research causes cancer in mice.

    • actually, it has been scientifically proven in millions of studies that white laboratory mice cause cancer.

  • It's all part of the mice's master plan to question the answer 42...
  • Seriously... Cancer is big, big business. I expect it will never be cured as long as this kind of money is being rolled around. I think I flipped from disturbed to disgusted by this when lots of billboard advertisements started appearing for cancer treatment facilities.

    At this point, I may be happier calling this life good and heading out than feeding their damn money machine.

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