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The Virtual Physiological Rat

The NIH awards $13 million to create a computer model of a lab rat.

By | August 12, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, STEVENFRUITSMAAK

Lab rats are finally catching a break. The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee has received a 5-year, $13 million grant to establish a National Center for Systems Biology, reports Newswise. The first task of the Center will be to create a virtual lab rat—a computer model that will gather all available research data for rats into one place.

By integrating the widespread data into a single model, researchers will be able to better understand rat physiology as a whole and to predict how multiple systems will interact in response to environmental and genetic causes of disease. They will also be able to input multiple causes at once and observe the virtual rat’s physiological response. The research will focus on diseases including hypertension, renal disease, heart failure, and metabolic syndromes.

“The Virtual Physiological Rat allows us to create a model for disease that takes into account the many genes and environmental factors believed to be associated,” Daniel Beard, a computational biologist and the principal investigator on the grant, said in a press release.

But rats aren’t completely off the hook. Once the computer model generates hypotheses about systemic response to disease, researchers will use the information to produce new knockout strains of rats to verify the model’s predictions.

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Avatar of: Susan Fitzpatrick

Anonymous

August 12, 2011

Oh good, now the emphasis can shift increasingly away from studying human physiology and we can spent ALL our time comparing what we know about the real rat with the artifical rat.   Models are only useful in the context of a particular research question.  When the model becomes the focus of the research we risk lossening even more the tenuous grip academic biological research has on reality.

Avatar of: oncenever

Anonymous

August 12, 2011

all for the glory of mechanising aka computi-zing everything we choose to study

Avatar of: DPE

Anonymous

August 12, 2011

You are being sarcastic, I assume, but what is your point?

Avatar of: Jaimie Kepner

Anonymous

August 12, 2011

Susan, you can't study humans in the same detail you study rats or mice. You can't engineer knock-out humans to study disease. You can't intentionally infect people to see how a disease progresses in the body. The Nazis tried to do that sort of research. It's barbaric. I feel bad for the rodents, but right now that's the best way to study human disease. Mice and rats are very well-studied (and have been used in immunological research for over 50 years), and share many similarities genetically as well as immunologically. I think you would be shocked at how much more similar rats are to us than they are different. They can be manipulated to have diseases we see in humans, such as Cystic Fibrosis or Type I Diabetes. And I'm really not sure what you are trying to say about what researchers risk 'lossening', but often what people don't understand regarding research is that you can't know before you begin what that research will uncover or its long-term effect. Most major discoveries are by chance or accident (Penicillin and Viagra, for example). Yes, most research seems "far-fetched" and "abstract" to laymen, and yes some research does not yield the results hoped for, but we need research in order to progress.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

Oh good, now the emphasis can shift increasingly away from studying human physiology and we can spent ALL our time comparing what we know about the real rat with the artifical rat.   Models are only useful in the context of a particular research question.  When the model becomes the focus of the research we risk lossening even more the tenuous grip academic biological research has on reality.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

all for the glory of mechanising aka computi-zing everything we choose to study

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

You are being sarcastic, I assume, but what is your point?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

Susan, you can't study humans in the same detail you study rats or mice. You can't engineer knock-out humans to study disease. You can't intentionally infect people to see how a disease progresses in the body. The Nazis tried to do that sort of research. It's barbaric. I feel bad for the rodents, but right now that's the best way to study human disease. Mice and rats are very well-studied (and have been used in immunological research for over 50 years), and share many similarities genetically as well as immunologically. I think you would be shocked at how much more similar rats are to us than they are different. They can be manipulated to have diseases we see in humans, such as Cystic Fibrosis or Type I Diabetes. And I'm really not sure what you are trying to say about what researchers risk 'lossening', but often what people don't understand regarding research is that you can't know before you begin what that research will uncover or its long-term effect. Most major discoveries are by chance or accident (Penicillin and Viagra, for example). Yes, most research seems "far-fetched" and "abstract" to laymen, and yes some research does not yield the results hoped for, but we need research in order to progress.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

Oh good, now the emphasis can shift increasingly away from studying human physiology and we can spent ALL our time comparing what we know about the real rat with the artifical rat.   Models are only useful in the context of a particular research question.  When the model becomes the focus of the research we risk lossening even more the tenuous grip academic biological research has on reality.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

all for the glory of mechanising aka computi-zing everything we choose to study

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

You are being sarcastic, I assume, but what is your point?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 12, 2011

Susan, you can't study humans in the same detail you study rats or mice. You can't engineer knock-out humans to study disease. You can't intentionally infect people to see how a disease progresses in the body. The Nazis tried to do that sort of research. It's barbaric. I feel bad for the rodents, but right now that's the best way to study human disease. Mice and rats are very well-studied (and have been used in immunological research for over 50 years), and share many similarities genetically as well as immunologically. I think you would be shocked at how much more similar rats are to us than they are different. They can be manipulated to have diseases we see in humans, such as Cystic Fibrosis or Type I Diabetes. And I'm really not sure what you are trying to say about what researchers risk 'lossening', but often what people don't understand regarding research is that you can't know before you begin what that research will uncover or its long-term effect. Most major discoveries are by chance or accident (Penicillin and Viagra, for example). Yes, most research seems "far-fetched" and "abstract" to laymen, and yes some research does not yield the results hoped for, but we need research in order to progress.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 15, 2011

I'm sorry, but it's arrogant to think that a virtual rat is as good as a real one.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 15, 2011

I don't think that is what the researchers are saying.  The virtual rat is an additional tool, not a replacement for the live rat.  They will use the virtual model to fine tune their hypotheses and design better live rat experiments.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 15, 2011

Rat behavior is a difficult issue to cover, as it is often riddled with many other factors contributing to disease. This could be a beneficial study for improved pest control if successful though.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 15, 2011

I'm sorry, but it's arrogant to think that a virtual rat is as good as a real one.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 15, 2011

I don't think that is what the researchers are saying.  The virtual rat is an additional tool, not a replacement for the live rat.  They will use the virtual model to fine tune their hypotheses and design better live rat experiments.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 15, 2011

Rat behavior is a difficult issue to cover, as it is often riddled with many other factors contributing to disease. This could be a beneficial study for improved pest control if successful though.

Avatar of: Xfunc

Anonymous

August 15, 2011

I'm sorry, but it's arrogant to think that a virtual rat is as good as a real one.

Avatar of: Jessica Johnson

Anonymous

August 15, 2011

I don't think that is what the researchers are saying.  The virtual rat is an additional tool, not a replacement for the live rat.  They will use the virtual model to fine tune their hypotheses and design better live rat experiments.

Avatar of: Jay Coen

Jay Coen

Posts: 1457

August 15, 2011

Rat behavior is a difficult issue to cover, as it is often riddled with many other factors contributing to disease. This could be a beneficial study for improved pest control if successful though.

Avatar of: Hugo_geerts

Anonymous

August 17, 2011

I completely agree with Susan. Rats and mice are notoriously good for documenting the rodent biology, but very bad in supporting drug development. Why would otherwise more than 90% of drugs fail clinical development? All of these drugs have passed preclinical animal models of safety and efficacy. There are so many differences between human and rat physiology (for a good overview in the CNS area, see CNS Drugs 23, 915 (2009)). On the other hand, non invasive imaging modalities allow to open a window in the human brain in normal and disease state. Why not putting effort in a more comprehensive modeling of the human? That will solve medical problems faster than trying to bridge the translational disconnect between rat and human.     

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 17, 2011

I completely agree with Susan. Rats and mice are notoriously good for documenting the rodent biology, but very bad in supporting drug development. Why would otherwise more than 90% of drugs fail clinical development? All of these drugs have passed preclinical animal models of safety and efficacy. There are so many differences between human and rat physiology (for a good overview in the CNS area, see CNS Drugs 23, 915 (2009)). On the other hand, non invasive imaging modalities allow to open a window in the human brain in normal and disease state. Why not putting effort in a more comprehensive modeling of the human? That will solve medical problems faster than trying to bridge the translational disconnect between rat and human.     

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 17, 2011

I completely agree with Susan. Rats and mice are notoriously good for documenting the rodent biology, but very bad in supporting drug development. Why would otherwise more than 90% of drugs fail clinical development? All of these drugs have passed preclinical animal models of safety and efficacy. There are so many differences between human and rat physiology (for a good overview in the CNS area, see CNS Drugs 23, 915 (2009)). On the other hand, non invasive imaging modalities allow to open a window in the human brain in normal and disease state. Why not putting effort in a more comprehensive modeling of the human? That will solve medical problems faster than trying to bridge the translational disconnect between rat and human.     

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 19, 2011

Susan is absolutely right. This is the silliest nonsense. What a waste. Jamie says, "some research does not yield the results hoped for...". As far as studies based on rats and intended to benefit humans, a correct statement would have been "most research based on animal models does not ...".

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 19, 2011

Susan is absolutely right. This is the silliest nonsense. What a waste. Jamie says, "some research does not yield the results hoped for...". As far as studies based on rats and intended to benefit humans, a correct statement would have been "most research based on animal models does not ...".

Avatar of: Rick Bogle

Anonymous

August 19, 2011

Susan is absolutely right. This is the silliest nonsense. What a waste. Jamie says, "some research does not yield the results hoped for...". As far as studies based on rats and intended to benefit humans, a correct statement would have been "most research based on animal models does not ...".

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