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November 22, 2011
The Mouse Trap
If you haven't seen it, this series by Daniel Engber at Slate, on the use of the mouse as a laboratory workhorse, is excellent. (And I'm not just saying that because he references some of my disparaging comments about xenograft models, although that did give me a chance to teach my kids what the word "acerbic" means).
He has a lot of good points, which will resonate with people who do research (and inform those who don't). For example, writing on the ubiquity of C57 black mice, he asks:
So one dark-brown lab mouse came to stand in for every other lab mouse, just as the inbred lab mouse came to stand in for every other rodent, and the rodent came to stand in for dogs and cats and rabbits and rhesus monkeys, the standard models that themselves stood in for all Animalia. But where is Black-6 taking us? How much can we learn from a single mouse?
A lot - but enough? That's always the background question with animal models. My take has long been that they're tricky, not always reliable, and still, infuriatingly, essential. The problem is that even things like xenograft models are terrible only on the absolute scale. On the relative scale - compared to all the other animal models for new oncology drugs - they're pretty good. And compared to not putting your drugs into an animal at all before going to humans, well. . .
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