“Healthy” lab rats are really sick
The use of laboratory animals – usually rats and mice – as “stand-ins” for human conditions, or to test new drugs for safety and efficacy can be criticized on many grounds. Laboratory animals have different nutritional needs. For example, rats and mice make their own vitamin C, whereas humans and other primates cannot and this may make their responses to a test situation very different from that of humans.
Now this excellent paper points out that laboratory animals are not healthy to begin with. Compared to their free-living counterparts they are sedentary, obese, glucose intolerant, and on a trajectory to premature death. The authors point out that failure by researchers to recognize this may lead to errors in the interpretation of the outcome of studies.
Just one more reason to be very wary of those advertisements in magazines and on television that use mouse or rat studies to support the efficacy and/or safety of any health care product.
Reference: “Control” laboratory rodents are metabolically morbid: why it matters. Martin B, Ji S, Maudsley S, Mattson MP. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010;107(14):6127-33