Ninety-five percent of all lab animals are mice or rats. Without them, we humans would be in pretty bad shape. They have been used as models for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s and a host of other human maladies. If you’ve ever been cured with a medication prescribed by a doctor, odds are you can thank a mouse.
Mice are popular with medical researchers because they are cheap, easy to maintain, docile and adapt easily to any surroundings. They reproduce quickly, and their two-to-three year lifespan allows for the observation of several generations in a relatively short time. Mouse genetic, biological and behavioral characteristics are close enough to those of humans to make them excellent surrogates. In this dangerous movie called Life, we are the stars and they are the stunt-mice.
PETA would argue that mice are getting the short end of this deal. They have a pretty good case, given that even the mice that are “cured” would not have been ill in the first place were it not for some zealous researcher trying to secure his/her grant money. In recent work at MIT’s Institute for Learning and Memory however, the little critters might just be playing against type.
Neuroscientists have debated for ages about what happens to forgotten memories. Are they permanently erased, or have we just lost the directions to their location? Using mild electric shocks, drugs and a laser technique known as optogenetics, the MIT team was able to show that certain forms of amnesia result from a loss of access to a portion of the hippocampus. Furthermore, they found that access could be restored. If you are a mouse and you’ve forgotten how to avoid an electric shock, this is epic.
Granted it’s a long way from a mouse brain to a human, but if the location of my car keys is in my hippocampus, this could be promising.