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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 on Friday November 18, 2011 @04:56PM (#38102982)
    the mole rats evolved. []
  • 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.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:27PM (#38103386)

    If you judge by the article she's bucking the system by looking at naked mole rats for an explanation for why they don't get cancer. The irony is that if she succeeds in finding the explanation and isolating it out to a treatment protocol the first thing she'll do is give some mice cancer and see if the treatment works on them (ok, maybe the second if the mechanism can be disabled in the naked mole rat somehow). That isn't bucking the system, it's being at a different stage in your research; she's still forming a hypothesis as to what an effective treatment could be. Once she has that she'll move right over to the sterile, genetically identical, and above all biologically consistent lab mice and rats. Why? Because that is how you perform replicatable animal trials. If someone halfway around the world can't replicate your results your experiment isn't worth much, that's why we have millions of essentially cloned lab mice in the first place.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Friday November 18, 2011 @06:19PM (#38103988)

    It *can't* be worse than chemo.

What is algebra, exactly? Is it one of those three-cornered things? -- J.M. Barrie