Rescuing The Lab Rat

Chicago group wants poor creatures spared

Are the lab rats days numbered?

Maybe so, thanks in part to a Chicago-based foundation that would like to save the rat from being used as a guinea pig.

"Bioengineers are striving to topple a scientific icon: the lowly lab mouse. And to replace bunnies, beagles, and other warm-blooded animals with insentient but biologically sophisticated substitutes," the Boston Globe reports.

"Numbers have been reduced in recent decades, but hundreds of thousands of mice, rats, chickens, and other creatures are still employed for medical experiments. More controversially, but also in greater numbers and with less oversight, millions of animals worldwide are sacrificed for testing of products whose only aim is to impart a sexier sheen on lips or more sparkle in toilet bowls."

A team at Brown University, though, is "building three-dimensional assemblages of living cells as a step toward fashioning functional simulations of human organs."

That effort is funded in part by the Chicago-based International Foundation for Ethical Research.

The foundation, located in the Loop, says it is "dedicated to supporting the development and implementation of scientifically valid alternatives that refine, reduce, or replace the use of live animals in research, product testing, and classroom education."

The work of the Brown University team - "detailed in the March 1 issue of Biotechnology and Bioengineering and posted at the end of January on the journal's Web site," according to News-Medical.Net - "successfully used clusters of cells grown in a 3-D Petri dish also invented by the group, in order to build microtissues of more complex shapes."

Like replicas of rats.

"For Morgan and other bioengineers, the big dream is that their labs might someday yield crops of transplant-ready livers, kidneys, and other vital parts," the Globe reports. "In the shorter term, however, the ambitious experiments ongoing at scores of major universities worldwide could produce complex tissues better suited for testing new medicines and procedures."

Steve Rhodes, the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, first came across this story - quite by accident - in Lab Manager Magazine.

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