The GT-mouse

How to weigh faster results against faster ended suffering in animal experiments?

A researcher has found a protein variant that appears to affect a gene in such a way that breast cancer develops. The researcher is trying to understand how this happens. 

The researcher uses mice for the research since they are a suitable model for the processes that occur in humans. A special mouse has been bred with the relevant gene, the "GT-mouse". It has taken several years to breed this mouse, and many mice have died along the way. 

Each animal experiment in the project is approved by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. The authorithy also encourage considering alternatives to animal models. When the researcher mentions this to her boss, he just brushes her off. Nothing can compete with our animal models, he responds. 

The research has reached a stage that requires the use of many animals. Tiny variations must be made each time to find out what affects the protein. The mice that get sick quickly have a short life. Other mice show mild symptoms, but unexpected and painful side effects. The researchers must consider how far the experiments should go before the mice are euthanised. By pushing this limit, they will get an answer faster and perhaps also an international breakthrough. 

  • What should the researchers consider at this stage of the research? 
  • Do the researchers need to reflect further, now that they have obtained permission from the food safety authority? 
  • Is it right for a boss to dismiss the younger researcher? What should he have discussed with her? 
  • How should the researchers deal with the dilemma of euthanasia / rapid results? 

Based on a text by Lise Ekern.