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March 3, 2010
Fat Rats Make Poor Test Subjects?
Well, here's a brow-furrowing paper, courtesy of PNAS. Th authors, from the National Institute on Aging, contend that most laboratory rodents are overfed, under-stimulated, and are (to use their phrase) "metabolically morbid". This affects their suitability as control and experimental animals for a wide variety of assays.
There seem to be effects across the board - the immune system, glucose and lipid handling, cardiovascular numbers, susceptibility to tumors, cognitive performance. The list is a long one, and the route causes seem to be ad libitum feeding and lack of exercise. The beneficial effects of some drugs in rodent models, the authors propose, could be due (at least in part) to their ability to reverse the artificial conditions that the animals are maintained under, and the application of these results to the real world could be doubtful. (The same concerns don't apply nearly as much to larger animals such as dogs and primates. They're handled differently, and their physiologies don't seem to be altered, or at least nowhere near as much).
Of course, some people live similar lifestyles, as far as the lack of activity and ad libitum feeding goes, so I have to wonder about the rodents being better test animals than one might wish for. But overall, this seems like a useful wake-up call to the animal testing community, especially in some therapeutic areas. On a domestic level, I'm thinking through the implications of this for the two guinea pigs my children have - they seem to sit around and eat all the time. The guinea pigs, I mean, not the kids.
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