The GM revolution in Britain's medical research laboratories - Science - News - The Independent

The mouse that cured:

The GM revolution in Britain's medical research laboratories

 

The importance to medical research of genetically modified (GM) mice was highlighted yesterday as official statistics showed that their use in scientific experiments has exploded over the past decade.

Almost all of the increase in animal testing since 2000 has resulted from the revolution in research that means biologists now routinely alter the genes of laboratory mice in order to mimic a range of human diseases, from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases to cancer and cystic fibrosis. For the first time, the number of scientific experiments and other "procedures" involving lab animals that have been either genetically modified or afflicted with harmful genetic mutations has exceeded the number using normal animals. More than a million GM mice were created in Britain last year alone. Such tests have already enhanced our understanding of a range of human diseases, from cancer to Alzheimer's and the common cold.

The total number of scientific procedures involving animals fell by 1 per cent last year, Home Office figures showed yesterday, but there was a steady and significant rise in the use of GM mutants, which accounted for nearly 53 per cent of the 3.6 million procedures carried out in Britain.

Most of the increase resulted from using or breeding GM mice for medical research, in which human diseases can be mimicked in animals as a result of changes to their DNA. This allows scientists to study human disorders in more detail under controlled conditions, and to test drugs and other potential treatments on animals before trying them on people.

About 3.5 million animals were used in last year's 3.6 million procedures – about 1 per cent fewer than were used in 2008. However, the number is still the second highest for 20 years and reflects a continuing upward trend, due primarily to greater use of GM animals and those with harmful genetic mutants.

Breeding to produce GM animals, mostly laboratory mice, and others with genetic mutations rose by 10 per cent last year to 1.5 million procedures. For the first time, experiments with genetically "normal" animals accounted for less than half of the total – 48 per cent. There was a 9 per cent rise in scientific procedures involving mice.

Researchers say the ability to breed GM mice that mimic human diseases, or have other traits that would not exist naturally, has revolutionised our understanding of the fundamental biology of human disorders and led to many breakthroughs in treatments. However, those opposed to vivisection question the value of such work, arguing that it offers only limited benefits and causes more suffering for animals.

Gemma Buckland, a science and policy officer at Humane Society International, an animal rights charity, said it was troubling to see such a rise in the use of GM animals that often suffered organ damage, physical deformities and tumours. She said that despite "very bold claims" made about their medical application, the truth was that "GM technology is still merely an attempt to add or knock out a gene in a different species to make it a less crude surrogate for humans".

"In [most] cases, the animal doesn't bear the desired genetic mutation and is simply killed as surplus," Dr Buckland said. "Even when the genetic mutation is successful, the end result is still an unsatisfactory animal model."

Scientific procedures using cats, dogs, monkeys and horses – which have special protection under law – all fell last year, by 7 per cent in the case of monkeys, by 3 per cent among dogs and 24 per cent among cats. Procedures involving mice accounted for three-quarters of all animal tests, while those involving monkeys, cats, dogs and horses accounted for less than 1 per cent.

The Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone said the figures showed the important work done to regulate vivisection in Britain, which was widely regarded as having the world's toughest laws for the licensing and monitoring of animal research. "The Government is committed to continuing with the highest standards of animal protection. We are also committed to ending the testing of household products on animals and working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research," she said.

Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, animals can be used in experiments only if there is a clear potential benefit to either people, animals or the environment, and when there is no means of obtaining these benefits without using animals.

Scientists must obtain Home Office licences to work on animals and the 190 establishments with such licences are subject to spot-checks by inspectors. Last year there were 40 infringements of the rules, most of which were self-reported and fell into category "A", the least serious. No infringements fell into the worst category "D", which would have led to prosecution.

How can 'Supermice' help?

Cancer

In the 1980s, Harvard scientists created OncoMouse, a GM mouse that was susceptible to cancer. It provided scientists with a useful animal "model" of a human disease that strikes one in three people at some time in their lives. Other GM mice that develop cancer have since been created.



Physical performance

In 2007, scientists developed a GM mouse with genes that affect glucose metabolism and the efficient use of body fat. The "supermouse" had extraordinary physical abilities comparable to the best human athletes, being able to run 4 miles for five hours without stopping.



Knock-out mice

Many GM mice used in medical research have had one or more of their genes deliberately disabled or removed. This targeted approach to creating GM mice allows scientists to mimic a range of human disorders known to be caused by a single defective gene.



Colour vision

Mice naturally see in blends of just two colours, while humans have trichromatic vision. In 2007, scientists created a GM mouse with three-colour vision by inserting a human gene for red colour vision into their genome. The research led to a better understanding of colour blindness in men.



Immune system

One of the most important strains of GM mice in medical research lacks a functioning immune system, which means they are susceptible to a number of illnesses and infectious diseases. This has proved invaluable in drug development.

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special needs assistants Jobs i...

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Bristol: Nursery nurse jobs in Chippenham...

Science Teacher required for a lovely Ramsgate Secondary School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is working in...

SEN Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher loo...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week