Scientists caution that some innovations are years away.
ESEARCHERS AT Boston University are cautiously optimistic that recent breakthroughs with human subjects may offer hope to laboratory rats around the globe. But the road to success is not always a direct one, as the scientists are discovering.
For example, researchers have long been mystified by the lab rat's obsession with running for hours on an exercise wheel, sitting compulsively on its hind legs while sniffing the air, and crawling all over other rats when there is ample room in the cage.
Said Dr. Niles Ranier, research scientist at BU, "We never thought human subjects could help our furry friends in the lab. When we placed humans in a room with a giant exercise wheel, for instance, they would just look at us and say 'wtf?'. So we had to think outside the box."
But some recent experiments with hyperactive humans have shown intriguingly similar results in the lab-rat community.
"We have demonstrated that even the most hyperactive rats, much as their human counterparts, can be calmed into a near stupor by watching any of Bravo's 'Real Housewives' series," Dr. Ranier explained.
Such results, cautioned the research scientist, "although promising" need years of refinement "before we can look a hyperactive lab rat in the eyes and say, 'You are cured, and so are your 500 offspring, at least those who haven't already been killed in a variety of methods in the name of science. And thank you for that, by the way.'"
Cures for serious medical conditions aren't the only advances scientists hope can be transferred from humans to lab rats.
"No matter what else is going on in their busy lives," said Dr. Ranier, "our rodents still want to look their very best.
"And that's why Pixie over here is a gorgeous redhead. After hundreds of trials on humans, we now know that Revlon's Colorsilk 'Cinnamon' will make other furry heads turn, that is if they're not currently weighed down with enormous tumors. And that is so appreciated," added the researcher.
Other promising breakthroughs for humans that may be adapted for lab rats in the coming decades, says Dr. Ranier, include timed-release allergy medication for cat dander, microchip-size defibrillators in case of electric shock, antidepressant food pellets, and, on the cosmetic side, non-toxic claw polish and unisex whisker mascara.
© 6.13.11 Kate Heidel