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

Fishing Haida Gwaii: Watching for herring spawn on Haida Gwaii’s west coast

By Darrell Oike Haawa for all the fish caught this week. We… Continue reading

Razor clam closure from Wiah Point to Rose Spit

All razor clam harvesting is closed from Wiah Point to Rose Spit… Continue reading

Wooden Horsemen ready to rock Haida Gwaii and northwest B.C.

Vancouver rocker Steven Beddall got his start playing in ska and funk… Continue reading

Letters: Cartoon spread a negative business vibe

I’m writing in response to The Happy Clam cartoon in the April… Continue reading

Both sides still looking for answers at Collison Point / St’alaa Kun

Talks are ongoing but so far there is no agreement one month… Continue reading

NDP gives Liberal budget ‘failing grade’ on gender equality

Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson said budget doesn’t do enough to focus on pay equity

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Builder of Kinder Morgan reinforces concerns over project

B.C. heads to court over pipeline jurisdiction as builder says doubt warranted

Health committee cheers idea of national pharmacare program, but cost an issue

Conservative health critic Marilyn Gladu says she fears costs could be far higher than $19 billion

Canada’s oldest blood donor says it’s all gain, no pain after decades of giving

Great-grandmother and Coquitlam, B.C., resident has been donating blood since the late 1940s

Union says Trump bullying threatens hundreds of B.C. pulp mill jobs

Fear mounts that new U.S. anti-dumping duties could price Catalyst mills out of business

B.C. real estate regulator to undergo NDP review

B.C. real estate agents were self-regulated until 2016, when BC Liberals appointed superintendent

B.C. pizza shop broken into 4 times in 2 weeks

A Vernon business owner is beginning to feel targeted

Man accused of Abbotsford school stabbing hearing voices, intensely paranoid

Lawyer says Gabriel Klein not fit to stand trial in May because of deteriorating mental state

Most Read