Rats as Research Models

Research takes time. People believe that things like vaccines can be created out of nowhere, to suit the needs of the big pharmaceutical companies and earn them tons of money during the flu season or in case an epidemic breaks loose, or even a pandemic.

But, research doesn’t work like that. It takes lots of time, lots of trial and plenty of errors, failures and times when it is simply impossible to work. Researching diseases and immunology, toxicology and even neurology is very difficult because human trials are forbidden. This is where rats come in. They have been used as research models for over a century now. Here is a bit of history on rats in research.

The Early Rat Days

Rats were first used as test subjects in laboratories about 150 years ago, in the 19th century. The term lab rat originated during that time as they were the first mammals which were used to perform assay tests, meaning metal tests. Rats were used not only because they were helpful in various trials, but because they also carried various diseases, which meant that they needed to be studied. They were used extensively in laboratories until 1987, when the first transgenic mice were created.

Transgenic Mice – A Shift Towards Mice

Transgenic mice, they were considered better than rats for laboratory tests because they were much better for testing various diseases, or rather, the physiology of one. They also allowed closer monitoring of the genes. Rats were difficult, in the sense that transgenic rats were much harder to create. Yet, compared to lab mice, which were used a lot more since 1987, rats also had their place in the world of research.

Rats as Research Models – Recurring

Rats are favored because their physiology is much more similar to humans than that of mice. There is an extensive history of testing with rats, which is missing with mice. Rats have also been shown to have better cognitive abilities than mice. Learning and memory tests were first performed on rats, not to mention that they are able to learn to perform some tasks much better than mice. In that regard, they are much better than mice as a research model. Rats are nowadays used for neurology-related diseases, as well as immunology tests with autoimmune diseases. They are also used for diabetes testing. 

Rats have been used throughout history as research models, for various purposes. The term lab rat originated in the 19th century and is to this day somewhat important, albeit not frequently used in the scientific world. They have their benefits, and are therefore used as research models, just like mice are. The next time a serious disease is cured, it might likely be due to rats.