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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Rat research and media hype   (December 05, 2006)

I am always puzzled by the way the media reacts to "rat research." Granted, rat research sometimes pays off in better understanding of human disease. But the media has documented repeatedly that it's able to exaggerate the applicability of rat research to humans. A recent example of valid research with exaggerated applicability to humans: A recent study has shown that grandsons and granddaughters of female rats fed an inadequate diet during pregnancy and/or lactation were more likely to become obese and insulin resistant than grandchildren of females fed an adequate diet.

The article's title is appropriately opaque: Sex differences in transgenerational alterations of growth and metabolism in progeny (F2) of female offspring (F1) of rats fed a low protein diet during pregnancy and lactation. But the press story has a very misleading title, Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk Influenced by Grandma's Diet. A bit premature. The authors are discussing their rats, not your grandmother.

It's clear that rodent research is of vital importance in understanding human disease. For instance, many years ago, pancreas transplants from non-diabetic rodents to identical siblings (who were made diabetic by nasty chemicals that researchers use) documented that the transplanted pancreas were able to control blood sugar levels perfectly in the recipients. Of course, in identical twins (whether human or rat), the risk of rejection of the transplant is not an issue. And the point was crucial to understand before undertaking human transplants: transplanted islet cells can indeed release insulin in appropriate amounts to control blood sugar levels.

So, "rat research" will always be important to people with diabetes. Just read the media's version of the stories with skepticism (and read the scientific abstracts or full publications for more details).

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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