Mice Used in Taxpayer-Funded Fertility Experiments at the University of Adelaide
In a taxpayer-funded study, researchers at the School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health at the University of Adelaide are using mice in an attempt to determine whether a high-fat diet affects female fertility.
The study, which was published in the journal Endocrinology in November 2010, sought to determine whether lipid build-up, apoptosis (cell death) and other processes occur in female reproductive cells in response to a high-fat diet.
In the experiment, 6-week old purpose-bred female mice were fed a high-fat diet, while others were fed a control diet. At the same time, purpose-bred male mice of 10-16 weeks were maintained on a standard diet. This lasted for four weeks.
To demonstrate the effects of the high-fat diet, one group of the female mice were deprived of food and water overnight, weighed, and serum samples obtained. The study does not describe how these samples were obtained.
To determine the impact on ovulation and fertilisation, female mice fed the control diet or the high-fat diet were treated with gonadotropins (hormones that stimulate the gonads) and caged with a male mouse. Cumulus-oocyte complexes (COCs – compound which surrounds a freshly-ovulated ovum) were then obtained from the female mice to examine the effect of the high-fat diet on fertility.
To collect the immature, unexpanded COCs from the mice, the antral follicles of the ovaries were punctured. This occurred 48 hours after the mice were injected with equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG). To collect the mature, expanded COCs, blunt dissection of the fallopian tubes was performed. This occurred 44 hours after the initial injection of eCG and a further injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).
It appears that anaesthetic was not used at any time during these procedures.
The study later refers to the ovaries being fixed in a substance (paraformaldehyde/PBS) and sections cut, so it is reasonable to assume that the ovaries were removed at some point during the study; although this is not detailed. It is therefore also reasonable to assume that the mice were killed at some stage during the experiment; though this is not mentioned, either.
In addition to the use of mice, fetal calf serum was also used in this experiment.
Lastly, human follicular fluid was also examined during the study and was obtained from women of varying Body Mass Indices (BMIs) seeking assisted reproduction.
The study concluded that lipid accumulation and apoptosis, among other things, are markedly increased in ovarian cells of mice fed a high-fat diet; similarly, oocytes of mice fed a high-fat diet also had dramatically increased lipid content. Additionally, mice fed a high-fat diet showed decreased fertilisation rates.
Of the studies conducted with the women of varying BMIs, the results indicated that "lipotoxicity may be occurring in ovarian cells of obese women and may contribute to the reduced pregnancy rates observed in response to obesity" [p.5438] (emphasis added).
Why the Use of Animals Was Unjustified:
Though the taxpayer-funded study conducted research with mice, it also conducted studies with humans. It is unclear as to why the animal study was needed, as it appears that the same substances and techniques were not carried out with the human participants anyway. This study is therefore inherently recognising that animals and humans are not the same, and that animal studies are not predictive of what will occur in humans.
Furthermore, the study was arguably inconclusive, with researchers stating only that lipotoxicity may be occurring and may contribute to fertility problems in obese women. One wonders whether the results could have proven more conclusive had the researchers directed their funds uniquely into the human studies rather than animal experiments.
The use of animals in research has been criticised by many scientists, including Drs Greek and Swingle-Greek, an MD and a veterinarian respectively. They claim that, ‘[n]o matter what one learns in a lab, it is meaningless because the human patient is always greatly different from the lab animal’.
In the event that an animal experiment does produce the same outcome as a human study, this does not mean that the animal experiment was necessary to achieve the outcome of the human study. Moreover, which animal is to be used? And which results are to be followed – those obtained from studies using mice or perhaps those from rabbits? Greek and Swingle-Greek conclude that, ‘it is a denial of the fundamental principles of evolutionary biology, modern-day molecular biology, and genetics to continue using animals as models for humans’.
Whilst it is difficult to determine the grant amount received for this particular experiment, we have determined that the researcher has been awarded almost $2 million over the past nine years for this and similar research.
What Can You Do?
Please write to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), asking them to stop funding animal experiments with your taxpayer dollars, and to instead fund epidemiological studies:
Prof. Warwick Anderson,
- Chief Executive Officer,
- GPO Box 1421
- Canberra, ACT 2601
And please write to the following to express your disappointment at such useless research:
Prof James McWha
- Vice-Chancellor & President
- The University of Adelaide, SA 5005
And please write to the following to express your disappointment at their financial support of such useless research:
Mr Glenn Rappensberg
- Executive Director
- The Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation
- PO Box 2438
- Regency Park SA 5942
 Wu, L.L. et al, ‘High-Fat Diet Causes Lipotoxicity Responses in Cumulus Oocyte Complexes and Decreased Fertilization Rates’, Endocrinology, Vol. 151, No. 11, November 2010.
 Greek, C.R. & J. Swingle Greek, Specious Science: Why Experiments on Animals Harm Humans, New York & London: Continuum, 2002, p.158,
 Greek, C.R. & J. Swingle Greek, Specious Science, 2002, p. 251.
 NHMRC research funding datasets 1990/2010 http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/grants-funding/research-funding-statistics-and-data