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Cancer Research Goes Hot


(The Scientist) - Holding laboratory mice at temperatures lower than those the animals prefer could be altering their physiology and skewing experimental results.

Afew years ago, tumor immunologist Elizabeth Repasky realized that she had heard from too many oncologists, colleagues, and friends that cancer patients regularly reported feeling cold and unable to regulate their internal thermometers. At her lab at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, she decided to build on her experience studying thermal physiology and immunology to see exactly what might be going on with regard to temperature and cancer. “I’ve always gone around telling people it’s really important to be warm,” she says. “Being warm is a really important part of dealing with diseases like cancer.”

Laboratory mice are routinely held at temperatures well below what’s called their “thermoneutral zone,” or the temperature range in which their metabolism functions most efficiently, without the need to expend excess energy to heat their bodies. The murine thermoneutral zone (TNZ) is variously defined as from about 26–34 °C or, more narrowly, 30–32 °C. But the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, a near universally accepted set of recommendations for the housing and use of model organisms, mandates that mice should be held at just 20–26 °C—well below their natural TNZ. This led Repasky and her team to wonder: Are the countless mice used in cancer research too cold? Is there a fundamental physiological shift that occurs in these chilly mice that may be skewing research results?

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