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Yet Another Call to Abandon the Lab Mouse

Horrors! Yet another researcher recommends using animals other than rodents for lab tests.

OK, this is getting ridiculous.

A few posts back, we told you about a Stanford immunologist who wrote an essay in the journal Immunity about how we should all look away - look away! - from the mouse model when studying diseases that affect humans. Now, another Big-Shot Smarty-Pants Professor has gone one step further, arguing that human and veterinary medicine could receive a big boost through the use of larger animals, specifically pigs and dogs.

We'll repeat: pigs and dogs.

This blasphemy was discussed at a workshop organized by the European Science Foundation, which called for a European pig sty - sorry, clinic - to facilitate the generation and identification of models of human disease, which would draw funding from the European Union's main source of money for research.

"The workshop showed that there is excellent expertise in individual labs, but the phenotypic tests need to be harmonized and standardized to facilitate comparison of results obtained in different labs," Angelika Schnieke, one of the workshop's leaders, was quoted in a release. She holds the chair of Livestock Biotechnology at the Centre of Life Science of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Weihenstephan, Germany.

Of course, it goes without saying around these parts that such standardization has already been achieved for rodents, particularly the humble mouse, which is the most widely used animal model for human disease research.

But Schnieke and her cohorts think the extension of such a framework to pigs and dogs would bring great rewards for both human and animal medicine. "Large animals offer a link between the classical rodent models and application in the clinic," she said. "In view of the close genetic, anatomical and physiological similarities between dog and pig on the one side and human on the other, large animal models are likely to catalyze drug development."

The workshop focused primarily on pigs and dogs because they are quite similar in scale and anatomy to humans. Dogs could be used to study the immediate consequences of infectious disease, whereas pigs could be genetically engineered to mimic certain human conditions, such as immune system deficiencies.

"A possible idea is the generation of pigs with a humanized immune system," said Schnieke. "The proof of principle has been shown in the mouse. Immune-deficient mice can be reconstituted with human immune cells and can be used to study immune reactions, for example against tissue xenografts (transplantation of tissue between species, such as pig to human). In theory this could also be possible in pigs. Therefore the generation of immune-deficient pigs is an important goal."

And Today In Mice fervently hopes that's all it remains: a goal.