Checkup: Keeping Lab Mice Warm
If you were to visit a scientific lab, say one devoted to developing new drugs, it would look something like this:
"Basically youíd walk into a room that has no windows, that was light controlled, that was temperature controlled, that was humidity controlled, and there would be racks, shelves and shelves of shelves, with hundreds, thousands of mice in the room in little plastic cages."
Thatís Joe Garner, a professor of comparative medicine at Stanford. The biggest problem for lab mice, he says, is not that theyíre in cages in windowless rooms. Itís that theyíre cold.
"The typical temperature in a mouse room is whatís comfortable for a human being in scrubs in a lab coat -- thatís about 22 degrees centigrade."
Or, for us Americans, roughly 71 degrees Fahrenheit. Which might sound warm enough, except that for the mice, which are typically not supplied with nesting material, itís a little on the cool side. And when mice are cold, they have to burn more energy and give up some biological functions -- like their immune system -- to stay alive.
"If Iím testing this drug in animals that are on the borderline of being so cold that theyíre immune compromised, then maybe this drug appears to work in the mice because theyíre immune compromised. But when I try it in a human being who isnít immune compromised, itís not gonna work."
Garnerís proposed solution to this problem is simple: give lab mice material to make nests. Doing so would save money, Garner says, because nesting mice eat less and give birth to more pups. The main reason most labs currently do not allow mice to nest is because changing the process would invalidate a centuryís worth of lab mice studies -- an argument that Garner openly rejects.
"My counter-argument to that is if youíre telling me that your animal model will only work in animals that are cold stressed, then arenít you telling me that thereís a really serious problem with this animal model and itís not likely to translate into humans."
Iím Jeremy Shere