Are Medical Mouse Studies Worth Reporting?

Are Medical Mouse Studies Worth Reporting?

People who cover medical issues often write about mouse studies. These stories can regularly be found on traditional news outlets, both broadcast and print, as well as online platforms. That includes the website on which you’re reading this column. I’m one of the mouse study writers, though I try to limit my reporting to studies that seem very significant or unusual.

This kind of reporting has now generated a Twitter feed about mouse study stories: @justsaysinmice. James Heathers, the science writer who created it, calls it “a wilfully dumb idea” but one with intent that’s serious. That intent, as Heathers says in a rambling post on Medium, is to point out that “Reporting pre-clinical research as something that’s directly relevant to people in the here and now is like pointing at a pile of two-by-fours and a bag of tenpenny nails and calling it a cottage.”

Mouse studies are definitely pre-clinical research. The results that they report may be very different from the results that appear in an actual clinical trial — a trial using real people as test subjects. And a Phase 3 clinical trial (the final phase before a treatment is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) may be years away — if the study ever gets that far.

Heathers complains that writers are too quick to publish claims made in news releases. A business, or even a university, reports a sexy result, and we rush to our keyboards to tell the world, even though it’s just a mouse study.

Heathers says in his post, “I think reporting on scientific research accurately, especially when it’s about health and medical science, is important. It often means telling people crucial, scary, or important things from a position of authority.” He’s right. Writing a headline or a lede that reports that a cure has been found for cancer — or in my case, for MS — and then qualifying it with “according to a mouse study” doesn’t cut it.

It seems as if Heathers may have struck a nerve with some consumers of medical news. In just four days, his Twitter feed, which has posted fewer than 30 tweets, has amassed more than 40,000 followers. (That’s about 350 times more people than follow my @themswire Twitter feed, which has been running for two years.)

What do you think? Do we write too much about mouse studies and other research when it’s at a very early stage? Should we wait to report about a study until it reaches a point where humans are involved in clinical trials? Or would you rather hear about this research right off the bat, even though it may wind up affecting nothing except the rats?

Drop a comment below.

You’re also invited by drop by my personal blog at www.themswire.com. And, of course, my Twitter feed.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

20 comments

  1. Helen Partovi says:

    Prefer to hear this information right off the bat! Even though the research might not come to anything, I think we all like to know what’s going on out there and then make up our minds.

  2. Mark says:

    Great post. That’s the first thing I look for. Were results from a mouse trial or not? If they are I dismiss the “potential breakthrough”. As someone who has MS, anything pre-phase three doesn’t move the needle.

  3. william Nye says:

    If people are reporting mouse studies and their results as possible cures or benefits for ms, this is wrong. People just need to be aware that at best these are just experiments and are far far away from proving anything. However neurology has benefited greatly from such experiments.

  4. Karen Aneshansley says:

    I think it is worthwhile to write about mouse EAE research. At the molecular level we’re pretty much the same. It’s just that people might have false hope that there is going to be a disease modifying therapy as a result of the research in time to prevent their disease from progressing or reversing their disability. So it must be emphasized that while the research is relevant there will not be a disease modifying therapy as a result of it for years.

  5. Panos Lambis says:

    I assume when MS has taken most joy out of life, sufferers like myself temporarily forget we’re reading about a mouse trial because we’re desperately searching for hope and want to justify holding on to life and what little of our dignity is left.
    Personally I think pseudo help is better than no hope and eventually the real thing will come along.

  6. Leslie Willis says:

    I would rather not hear about mice results. I was diagnosed 10 years ago with PPMS. Since then I found out that I also have relapses. I want to hear every result as long as it is from a human trial. It’s too easy to get your hopes up when you hear positive results from a study. It should be a human study, though. I’m 61 and was diagnosed 10 years ago so even if they find a cure tomorrow it probably won’t help me, but it would help my children’s generation. I don’t need to hear any results on mice that may not hold up in trials. I do want to hear any results on human clinical trials.

  7. Brian Keith Moorer says:

    I want to hear more phase three results due to the word “HOPE”. I believe every MS patient holds onto the word and wish. I want to know that a change is being made to eradicate the disease and not just modify the causes.

  8. Linda says:

    I don’t follow twitter or facebook, but I do read this daily posting. I agree with Heathers, that mouse studies are akin to pointing to a pile of supplies and implying a cottage will materialize. Mouse studies are important to researchers, and to those who follow every last bit of MS info. I never pay them much attention as they will not impact my immediate circumstances. Realistically, much research is just exploration of theories. Sometimes leading to a conclusion. Sometimes not. Mouse studies are not particularly important to me.

  9. Aircarrot says:

    I am very interested in this topic. It is good to have hope and I like being informed. But it is frustrating to follow a story based on a mouse study and never hear more about it. I’d like to hear the results, too. Good or bad. For me, bad news is easier to take as a journey in bite sized pieces I can process and not a smack in the face bottom line conclusion. Getting my MS diagnosis was easier to take as I researched the possible causes of my symptoms and narrowed it down with my doctor. Instead of just waiting for the bottom line result. Report mouse studies. Just report all the results of a story you are reporting on–the good and bad. I want to be educated along with the researchers. It helps me make informed decisions.

  10. Frank DiPasquale says:

    It seems that almost everything works on the EAE model used on mice. I think that this is not an appropriate model. I am waiting to hear that water works on mice.

  11. Joan Bondira says:

    It’s fine to report them, but I’d like to see stories qualified as mouse studies in the headline or lede. As it is, I do a search for “mouse” before I read it.

  12. Doug Tagg says:

    Mouse would be fine if the news media would not run away with it as a breakthrough. since that is not the case, people studies only for me Thank you.

  13. Linda Mcgregor says:

    I totally disagree with mice studies (and any animal testing) – it is cruel and many have totally different results once tested on a human group.
    A lot of money is wasted on animal studies which don’t get further than phase 2
    Animal testing is not required anymore and more accurate results can be observed in a lab without the use of animals.

  14. marc stecker says:

    Please, enough with the mouse studies. Especially when it comes to MS. The simple fact of the matter is MICE DON’T GET MS! The studies all involve mice who are induced to get an allergic reaction that destroys their myelin, something that bears absolutely no resemblance to the MS disease process in humans. At least in cancer studies involving mice, the mice actually get cancer.

    The percentage of mice multiple sclerosis studies that eventually translate into anything usable in humans is something on the order of less than .01%. So, basically worthless when it comes to informing current patients with the disease about anything that might impact their illness.

    There is value in studying neurodegeneration and nervous system damage in mice if simply to understand the nature of the mechanisms of nerve damage and possible strategies for neuroregeneration and remyelination, but these are strictly for research purposes only. Again, MICE DON’T GET MS, so even basic biological mechanisms studied in the little rodents are a far cry from what goes on in the human body.

    Hope is the basic currency of all patients suffering from progressive debilitating diseases, but false hope is, I believe, worse than no hope at all…

    • Wayne says:

      Hope yields the placebo effect, the most powerful drug known to mankind. Yet modern medicine goes out of its way to brand the placebo effect as useless. False hope? No, just not the right hope for you. Keep hoping until you find the placebo effect that works for you!

  15. Marie says:

    I like to know what kind of research is going on to help us MSers, but I think the mouse study’s can give us false hope. I’d rather know what kind of research is being done on humans.

  16. Barbara Macioch says:

    As a spouse (caretaker) of a man diagnosed with PPMS at age 54 Years, after being guessed about and tested for 5 years (he was too old, he was a man, etc.) was finally given the name of the problem — MS. The Mayo Clinic was not afraid to finally put the name to it, kissed him on the forehead (so to speak) and sent him out the door with the news that there was nothing possible to help him. Obviously “progressive” means “progressive” — the only “hope” has been through a conference (about 10 years ago) reporting on stem cell research and the prediction of a cure within 5 years… The “humane” use of mice just might be considered better than test subjects used in past years (asylum or prison residents). My job in this adventure is to help sort through what is pertinent to his situation and help latch onto the “HOPE” being offered, finally, to his type of MS. As I understand it, there are 3 steps to FDA approval — the first being the presentation of the research and its conclusions. I enthusiastically want to read these reports, wait for the FDA approval to continue the process and wait for the next step and wait for the help he and all deserve.

  17. Greg Bond says:

    I agree that mouse studies are at best a screening tool, or filter. The history of MS drug development is littered with promising treatments that further studies proved them either ineffective or at worst, making MS worse. One example was a study that showed cigarette smoking, namely nicotine and carbon monoxide “cured” EAC mice bred to mimic MS demylinization. The danger is, especially with supplements that don’t require a prescription, us folks rush out and buy them an turn ourselves into “human mice” – I have done this myself. At best a waste of money, at worst having a bad impact on you ms or causing other health issues or side affect or neutralizing drugs that do work.

  18. Karen says:

    Does it really matter what we prefer?
    Researchers will publish what and when they deem it necessary.
    You decide what to do with the information.

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