Why Do Scientists Use Mice for Lab Research?

Discover why we prefer to use mice for experimentation and what alternative methods are available.

Jun 6, 2023byDonna Hobson
why scientists use mice for lab research

It’s something many of us don’t like to think about, but thousands of mice are used for testing every single day. Mice are used extensively in laboratory research because they are small, inexpensive, and easy to care for. They also share many characteristics with humans, making them ideal for studying diseases that affect humans.

Still, with more than 111 million mice and rats killed in US laboratories each year, the practice raises many ethical concerns. Join us as we explore why mice are integral to medical science, plus the alternative methods we could adopt to reduce animal Cruelty to our furry friends.

Why Do Scientists Use Animals Instead of Humans for Lab Research?

scientist holding mouse on hand
Image Source: Australia’s top supplier of lab mice and rats to shut down operations | Science | AAAS

Scientists use animals instead of humans for lab research to determine the safety and efficacy of potential treatments and medications. Animals are used because they share many similarities with humans, such as anatomy, physiology, and genetic makeup. This allows researchers to test treatments on animals before they are tested on humans, which reduces the risk of harm to human subjects.

And there are several other reasons why animals are used in place of humans for lab research –

Many animals – such as mice and rats – have significantly shorter lifespans than humans. This allows scientists to conduct longitudinal studies over an entire lifespan, sometimes even looking at genetic influences in the next generations.

There are large crossovers between human and animal (particularly mammal) biology. Many basic processes work similarly, such as respiration, digestion, and reproduction. Studying animals helps us understand how a healthy body should function and highlights what happens when things go wrong, and we succumb to illness. Many of these tests wouldn’t be possible on humans for a combination of practical, ethical, and legal reasons.

Scientists have much better control over an animal’s environment than humans, regulating factors like temperature and lighting to exact figures.

Additionally, animal research is often less expensive than human research due to the cost of recruiting participants and other associated costs. As a result, animal research is a vital tool in advancing medical knowledge and improving public health.

What Are the Benefits of Using Mice in Research?

mouse with lab equipment
Image Source: Big data can make lab-mice studies more relevant to humans – ISRAEL21c

Mice have been used in research for decades and have proved invaluable tools in studying human health and disease. They are easy to handle, breed quickly, and their physiology is remarkably similar to that of humans.

Mice are mammals, meaning their bodies undergo similar gaining processes and immune responses as ours. They also have a similar hormone system to our own. Mice are among the only animals to have their entire genome sequenced, demonstrating that they share 80% of the same genes as humans. As a result, mice are ideal for studying the effects of drugs, toxins, and other agents on human health.

In addition, they can be used to model various diseases so that researchers can identify potential treatments or cures.

What Kind of Research Are Mice Used For?

mouse under microscope for biomedical research
Image Source: Laboratory rats, mice and rodent video capture for biomedical research – NorPix Blog

Mice are widely used in scientific research due to their small size, low cost, and easy availability. They are used to study various topics, including genetics, behavior, physiology, and disease. With the help of mice models, scientists can better understand how diseases work and develop new treatments for them. In addition, mice are also used in drug testing and toxicology studies to determine the safety of certain medications before they are released for human use.

Thanks to mice, we have had a multitude of significant scientific breakthroughs. Here are just some of the things that we can thank these fantastic little creatures for:

  • Treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia – a form of blood cancer that primarily affects young adults
  • Gene transfer protocols for cystic fibrosis
  • The discovery of vitamin K
  • The invention of the polio vaccine
  • Development of monoclonal antibody technology – used for cancer treatments
  • Learning how neurons communicate in our brains

What Are the Alternatives to Using Mice in Research?

alternatives to animal testing tubes and equipment
Image Source: Alternatives to Animal Testing (nih.gov)

Mice have been the go-to animal model for research in the life sciences for decades. However, as our understanding of animal sentience and intelligence grows, many people find it hard to justify using live animals for our own purposes.

Technological advancements mean scientists can now create cell and organoid cultures that function like organs. The main current alternatives to animal testing are:

  • Cell cultures
  • Human tissue
  • Computer models
  • Volunteer studies

While technological advancements have replaced the need for animal testing in some areas, such as neuroscience, toxicity testing, and drug development, these methods can only go so far. Science has yet to find an alternative that can demonstrate a drug’s or chemical’s effects on the entire body over an extended time.

Still, many scientists use the three R’s as an ethical guide to limit the use of mice where possible. These are:

Replace: Can we do a different experiment that doesn’t require live animals?

Reduce: Can We streamline the design of our experiment to use fewer animals?

Refine: How can we minimize the impact on the animals within the experiment?

Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.