Caterpillars instead of mice – spectrum of science

Medical research would be unthinkable without animal testing. Whether therapeutic interventions are safe and effective must first be clarified by experts using animal models before they can be applied to humans. Small mammals such as rats and mice play an important role here: the majority of preclinical research works with these animals. But there are ethical objections to this, because small mammals are among the complex vertebrates, are relatively close to us in terms of evolution and it is difficult to implement species-appropriate husbandry for them. These concerns are reflected in the funding practice of scientific projects and in legislation. Accordingly, all possibilities should be exhausted in preclinical experiments to reduce the number of test animals and to find alternatives to vertebrates.

Possible workarounds include insects. My team and I, together with national and international cooperation partners, recently showed: The caterpillars of the American tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) represent a suitable animal model to study mechanisms of inflammatory bowel diseases. According to our results, it is possible to detect and examine pathological changes in the digestive tract of insects using imaging methods – very similar to the diagnostic methods used in humans. Compared to traditional laboratory animals such as rats or mice Manduca sexta several advantages: experiments with this insect species are ethically less controversial, faster and cheaper …

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