Saved by the lab mice

I touched the subject of ethical conduct within research before (The ethics in a search for a cure), that was about stem cells. This time I want to look into the use of lab animals and specifically the use of mice for type 1 diabetes research. Is the use of mice necessary, is it justified and how are they dealt with?

In any research associated with diseases, animal models are indispensable. They form the stage between in vitro tests and clinical trials (on humans). Usually, for research on type 1 diabetes, a mouse called the NOD mouse is used in the lab. NOD stands for Non-Obese Diabetic mouse. These mice show a tendency towards spontaneously developing autoimmune mediated type 1 diabetes. Not only does this make it less complicated for the researcher but it is also a far more ethical way of working as the mice are not exposed to an environment where type 1 diabetes is induced. The figure shows the tendency of the mice to develop diabetes. Environmental factors like the diet, housing conditions and health status can all induce the disease. Furthermore, mice that obtain induced diabetes are more prone to develop other autoimmune diseases as well.

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Of course these NOD-mice are not completely spontaneously developing type 1 diabetes. It’s the result of multiple cross-and inbreeds from mice with genes that had other diseases to start with. Mice that generally have elevated fasting blood glucose levels are said to be prediabetic. Nevertheless, using NOD-mice is far less stressful for the mice as they do not need to experience the whole process of inducing the diabetes artificially.


5 responses to “Saved by the lab mice

  1. I completely agree with the fact that lab mice (or other lab animals) are very useful and even necessary for some research! For my thesis I also work with mice. At first it is a bit scary because I kinda think they are cute so you don’t want to hurt them. But then you realize that they are treated in the most humane manner as possible and you will only hurt them/stress them out by working incorrectly with them. So I find working with lab animals good, as long as the people who work with them know what they are doing.

    It would also be practically impossible to always use other models than lab animals, because in vivo situations are very different than the in vitro situations.

  2. I agree with the both of you. Using lab animals is an essential step in research to overcome the gap between in vitro and clinical trials on humans. But ethical aspects can’t be overseen, they are right in our faces.
    As Lore already mentioned, the way you handle these lab animals is essential. You have to take care of them in a right and humane way. They can’t be harmed or stressed. Indeed, the use of these NOD mouses is a more ethical way of working with lab animals. They don’t get stressed by an environment which induces diabetes.

  3. Here in our lab, the people responsible for the care of the mice really do their best to make the environment as least stressful as they can for the mice. Last week a mouse had babies but then died due to unknown reasons and usually they leave the babies to die too but we put tried to put them with another mouse that also just had babies so they could be adopted. This worked, the stepmom mouse took care of the orphan baby mice and that way they lived. Just a little anecdote to demonstrate that these animals are not treated like garbage, they are respected and treated in the best way possible.

  4. Something totally different… You are saying that due to cross-and inbreeds the mice develop diabetes more easily. So, is there a genetic factor involved with the development of type 1 diabetes in humans? Because I know that it’s an auto-immune desease, but do you have an increased chance of developing the desease knowing that a family member has diabetes…

  5. Apparently you have more chance of getting it from your father should he develop the disease (10%), but yes type 1 Diabetes is genetically determined. If you have a genetic predisposition for the disease, your risk to develop it is higher. However environmental factors play an important role as well. For example a viral infection, toxic chemicals, some types of medicine and even a vitamin D shortage has shown to increase the risk. Anything that triggers your immune system in that way that it will attack your Beta cells that produce the insulin.

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