University of Calgary researcher Dr. Jeff Dunn is interviewed about new technology developed by the university to detect and monitor concussions. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Scientists use MRIs to curb use of rats, mice in medical research

Researchers use a small MRI to test possible treatments for cancer, strokes and multiple sclerosis

Medical scientists at the University of Calgary have taken steps to minimize the impact on mice and rats used in their experiments.

The university’s Cumming School of Medicine is outfitted with a small MRI that researchers use as they test possible treatments for cancer, strokes and multiple sclerosis.

“It’s one of the premier ones in Canada,” said Jeff Dunn, director of the school’s Experimental Imaging Centre.

“Anything under 500 grams fits in there, so mostly rats and mice. We use those in medical research obviously for preclinical assessment, how the disease progresses and possibly even more importantly if the treatment is functional.”

The MRI has been in use since 2004. The lab is also equipped with a blood gas analyzer, so tests can be done using blood samples taken from the animals in much the same way they are collected from human patients.

It’s a far cry from when scientists would use rats and mice and have to dissect them at every test stage.

“It really reduces the use of animals in research because, for a time-course study of treatment, we don’t have to do a whole bunch of animals,” Dunn said.

“You can take a small number and follow them over months to see how the treatment is working.”

READ MORE: Animal rights group appeals B.C. court decision over euthanized bear cub

Any research facility receiving government funding is subject to rules set out by the Canadian Council on Animal Care.

Spokeswoman Sandra MacInnis says the organization wants to ensure animal-based science in Canada takes place only when necessary and that the animals receive optimal care.

“For example, when selecting a research model, they must first consider all possible alternatives to animal models, such as computer or cell-culture models,” she wrote in an email.

The executive director of the Vancouver-based Animals in Science Policy Institute says efforts by the University of Calgary and others to use the equipment are a matter of debate.

Elisabeth Ormandy, a former researcher, said putting a mouse under an MRI scanner requires sedation or anesthesia and could be considered a source of distress for an animal since it could happen several times.

“It depends on our own personal ethics,” Ormandy said. “For people who care about that one individual mouse, that (MRI) might still not be OK.”

But she said some people might argue “it’s better to cause a little bit more suffering to one mouse instead of moderate suffering to 10 mice.”

An animal rights organization said there’s no need to use animals in tests at all when computer modelling can be just as useful.

“All things else being equal, certainly hurting and killing fewer animals is better than hurting and killing more animals,” said Jeremy Beckham, research associate with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

But he said that loses the bigger question a little bit.

“There’s not any real basis to think they feel pain any less than, say, a dog or a cat,” Beckham said.

“We’ve bred dogs and cats to be our companions, so we’ve got a little bit more of an emotional attachment to them. But the ethical issues of using rats and mice are staring us in the face just as strongly.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Injured woman and rescuers get hovercraft ride after Maple Mountain mishap

Cowichan Search and Rescue bring an injured 73-year-old hiker to the beach for a hovercraft ride

Crushers’ Coastal Cup dream ends

Cowichan U14 girls still have provincials ahead

Cowichan United bows out

Brilliant debut season ends in provincial tournament

Freedom Gospel Choir celebrates five springs together April 28-29

The theme is ‘water’ and the show features Coco Love Alcorn’s ‘The River’

Canadian musician duets with ancestral Indigenous voices on debut album

Toronto’s Jeremy Dutcher has mixed his operatic tenor with his Wolastoq First Nation roots

Take the opportunity for some toad talk in Duncan Thursday

Cowichan Watershed Board is welcomes Elke Wind

Okanagan pharmacist pleads guilty to animal cruelty charge

Joelle Mbamy was expected to stand trial Thursday, instead pleaded guilty to one of three charges

‘N’ driver in McLaren caught going 70 km/hr in playground zone

Vancouver police said the driver was fined $368 and the luxury car impounded for seven days

Dr. LipJob ordered to stop doing botox and other medical procedures

Rajdeep Kaur Khakh ordered to stop unlawful practice of medicine

B.C. to prevent for-profit blood, plasma collection

Voluntary Blood Donations Act would make it illegal to pay for blood, plasma donations

Bill Cosby guilty in sexual assault case

Comedian convicted of drugging and molesting a woman

B.C. legislates recreational marijuana sales

Age limit 19, province retains wholesale cannabis monopoly

COLUMN: Stanley Cup playoff second-round predictions

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins continue their quest for their third straight Stanley Cup

Most Read