Mice and rats are the most common lab mammals for scientific research, But depending on the question being asked, and if relevant, the intervention being tested, they are not necessarily always the most appropriate animal to use.
When it comes to studying interventions for human diseases, scientists in translational research must usually find animal models in whom the disease acts as similarly as possible to the way it does in humans. For example, when FDA researcher Tod Merkel conducted a study to test the effectiveness of the acellular pertussis vaccine in preventing infection, he used baboons because the disease process of pertussis is similar in baboons as it is in humans. The research cannot be perfectly translated, but it can come close enough to explain trends that researchers had identified in epidemiological data. Continue reading
Most journalists know — or quickly learn — that animal studies are problematic and usually best left uncovered if writing about general health and medical findings for a broad consumer audience. In fact, simply the way animals are bred and used in research can be problematic.
Aside from the controversy over use of animals in research and debates on the usefulness and relevance of that research, the fact remains that humans aren’t mice, or rats or horses or pigs or even chimpanzees. What happens in animals therefore cannot ever be directly translated to human anatomy and physiology. Continue reading
I recently was assessing a lengthy review of the evidence on environmental exposures and breast cancer risk, and as I read, red flags started popping up. While I may not know the evidence base in this area extremely well, I knew it well enough to recognize that the authors were making statements I was pretty sure were not supported by the evidence — or at least not to the extent the review suggested. Continue reading
If satire is a lesson, as novelist Vladimir Nabokov allegedly said, then John Oliver is among its best teachers — even, perhaps surprisingly, when it comes to assessing medical studies and their coverage in the media. If you haven’t already seen the segment I’m talking about, it’s really worth the time, both for lessons and for laughs, to watch it in full below.
During Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” he went on a tirade on Sunday about how poorly the media frequently portrays the studies that science is constantly producing. Continue reading
Scott Hensley, on NPR’s newly christened “Shots” health blog, points us to a five-year study of men who work in Chinese factories that make bisphenol A or use it to make other products.
The study found that “Men exposed to high levels of BPA on the job had a much greater chance of sexual problems than men who weren’t.” The factory workers are exposed to much higher levels of BPA than the average American, so research into how low a level of exposure might affect the human reproductive system must be done.
There are concerns that BPA is a threat to human health. Some studies have linked it to cancer, diabetes and developmental damage in animals, while other studies have not found such a link. Meanwhile, researchers have charged that studies showing a link were flawed. And, of course, the laboratory research is limited to animals. The controversy has extended to how the chemical has been covered in the media.