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Question Your World: Why Do We Study Mice Brains?

The concept of using mice for experiments is a pretty established aspect of scientific research. Mice are excellent examples of the mammalian systems and often times their bodies help us understand a lot about our own. So, why do we study mice brains? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Rodents are no strangers to the world of science, mice especially. They’re a great example of the internal ongoings of the mammalian system. So, a lot of tests are conducted on mice before trying other animals and eventually us humans. The examples of research done with mice range anywhere from physiological to medical and beyond. Sometimes we make them sleepy, sometimes we stress them out, and sometimes we even make them smarter.

In a recent study scientists were able to take new human glial cells and fuse them into the brain of a mouse. Glial cells surround neurons and help with synaptic response, the stuff that makes for better and faster connections in the brain. For this experiment 300,000 human fetal glial cells were placed in a mouse brain. In the course of a year the human cells grew and multiplied to about 12 million, replacing a lot of the mouse’s native brain cells. Since the more glial cells the stronger the synapses and the stronger the coating around the neurons, it’s not too surprising to see that these mice became “smarter.” They reacted better than average mice on tests and had a significantly stronger memory.

So, why are they doing this? Do they want to make stronger mice? Are they working on an army of rodents that could intelligently beat any mouse trap on the market? Is someone interested in making a real life Mickey Mouse?!? No, they’re not interested in making smarter mice or even a new type of animal. These experiments are done for the sake of researching neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis in an intact brain as opposed to brain cells in a dish. The complete and attached brain in a living system is where a lot of these diseases are formed, grow, or develop. In order to get to the root of the issue here scientists must observe these brain cells in action in the brain of a living system. Thus, these mice become the test subjects for a huge research project that could one day yield solutions on how to counteract or potentially cure some very dangerous mental conditions.

Much more research is needed on this before moving forward and testing on other animals and eventually humans, but this is a big milestone in the ongoing scientific saga of mice and men.

Article by: Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia.

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