Rats of NIMH and personalized medicine

This morning I saw an animal scurry across the street on my way into work. I’m not sure if it was a very small cat or a very large rat (it was 4AM and still dark). It got me thinking about rats.

I remember reading in Rats that some pest control technicians thought that the older, experienced rats could read. I laughed about it at the time. But there was an article recently about pigeons that can read, so maybe it’s not too far-fetched. I mean, they are recognizing words, not interpreting language, but that could still be an important survival advantage. Being able to recognize “POISON,” for instance, could definitely be an advantage for a rat.

That makes me think of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and how different the book was from the animated movie. The book was more “realistic” and didn’t have the deus ex machina ending. Still, both had a bit of an anti-research subtext. People feel bad for the rats, but lab animals are still necessary.

Maybe not forever, though. There’s  Organ on a Chip technology coming that may make it possible to perform tests on human tissue instead of animals. That would have a lot of advantages. Animal experiments are not always relevant to people. A human organ-on-a-chip would have the biochemistry perfectly matched to human. It would also be easier to get huge amounts of rich, biochemical data from the system. It’s hard to continuously monitor a live animal.

Finally, I see huge potential for personalized medicine in the organ-on-a-chip. This is already happening in cancer treatment.