Debbie Knight

A day in the life: September 7, 2011

In research log on September 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab on a particular day. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…” 

The lab I work in does very (very) limited animal studies — for which I’m grateful. While I understand the need for animal studies, I have a difficult time performing them myself. I love animals, great and small (except maybe reptiles, but I think that’s more of a misunderstanding than an exception).

We will be using mice in a study and we wanted to be sure that we performed a technique properly so that we don’t injure them by doing something the wrong way. So today we worked with a person from the University Laboratory Animal Resources (ULAR) to learn how to place a drug directly into the stomach of a mouse. This procedure is called “gavage” and it uses very thin tubing that you carefully place down the esophagus. This doesn’t hurt the mouse — especially if you put a little bit of sugar water on the outside of the tube (you know, a spoon full of sugar … ). Gavage ensures that the appropriate dose of the drug is received by each mouse in the study. We hope after phase 1 that we will be able to dope their food rather than have to gavage them.

The little white mice we practiced on were pretty cute and reminded me of some mice I once had as pets.

Former lab mice turned pets: Daisy (standing) and Dweezil (sleeping)

I rescued two laboratory mice that were used as controls in an experiment — it was an experiment from a researcher down the hall and she talked me into taking them. One mouse lived less than a year because it developed mammary tumors — a common malady in inbred lab mice. The other lived to a ripe old age of two years. She might have lived longer, but my curious cat  “helped” me one day by nudging and knocking “Daisy” out of my hand. Daisy landed on the carpet, but she succumbed to her injuries from the fall.

As Daisy aged, she had a hard time moving (arthritis?). But every day she would “run” on her wheel — although as she got older, her “run” slowed to more of a “walk.”  She was amazing.

The biggest lesson I learned from her? Keep on moving —  even if you don’t feel like it!

After Daisy, another researcher talked me into taking a hairless mouse — which was SO ugly it was cute. Unfortunately, I forgot that this particular mouse had a poor immune system. A month or so after I got her, I had a cold and managed to infect her with either a virus or bacteria, and she passed away.

I haven’t rescued any lab mice since then (although after today I’m thinking a rescued lab rat might make a nice pet).

Working with the mice today also reminded me of the very first time we worked with animals. It was with rats. I never really thought of rats as cute and cuddly before then (in fact I thought they were gross), but they “grew” on me. We had to weigh them daily for a month. We’d hold them and talk to them — kind of like having a pet. My boss and I made the rookie mistake of naming them. Names like Moe, Larry, and Curly (there were three in a cage). Curly turned out to be the heavy-weight, so he was aptly named. Names like Pinky and The Brain. Pinky had the cutest personality, similar to the cartoon character for which he was named. And The Brain figured out how to climb out of the beaker we weighed them in first — he was really smart … for a rat.

Anyway, at the end of a month, after we became really attached to the little critters, we had to euthanize them. That was the saddest day of our lives. I’m not a highly emotional person, but I cried.

After that, we learned not to give the rats or mice a NAME. But even when we assign them NUMBERS instead of a name, there are a few that stand out and, again, we grow attached. All this does is to make it harder to say goodbye to them when the experiment is over.

I don’t think I will ever be so callous to not be grateful for the sacrifice these furry little guys have made in the name of science. I know many students and scientists who feel the same way. Yes, there are some who use a large number of rats or mice in their studies and they’ve grown used to it.

I’ve never gotten “used to it,” and I hope I never will. I think it’s too important to appreciate and be thankful for their sacrifice — a sacrifice whereby I can lead a healthier, happier life. So, thank you, little furry guys and gals for all that you do!


  1. Hello Dr Debbie
    I stumbled on to your site when I saw a picture of a mouse with large ears on a google page. I am able to see pictures of animals in my mind. So I googled this one and this is the one that looks the closest to what my mind saw. I loved your heart warming story of taking care of the mice while doing experments. I wish every scientist were so kind. I just wanted to ask if you ever had a white mouse named Dumbo?
    Sincerely Andrea Aberle

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