Why are mice being forced to smoke?
In days past, you may have seen images of dogs with cones attached to their faces being forced to inhale cigarette smoke. However, sadly this is not a “thing of the past”. Today in Australia, mice are being used in inhalation studies. It is no less inhumane and carries the same ethical and scientific issues as using dogs.
Inhalation research is currently being conducted at institutions across Australia, with mice exposed via ‘nose only’ or ‘whole body’ exposure to cigarettes or other hazardous inhalants. Animal models of diseases for which cigarette smoking has a correlation, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases are created by researchers to investigate the basic biological mechanisms underlying respiratory disease in humans. However, these mechanisms are rarely the same between species. Researchers are also investigating local (lung) effects associated with toxicity of e-cigarettes.
To induce the disease, mice are subjected to up to 18 weeks of exposure to cigarette smoke. This is in addition to other procedures that may be carried out during the experiment, such as injections, the administration of food or drugs by force, behavioural tests, and ultimately death at the end of the experiment.
The nose only method is illustrated below:
Multiple chambers are added to a smoking tower.
The nose-only method exposure method is detailed in this video:
The whole body exposure is illustrated below:
The initial ask is for the University of Newcastle to cease forced inhalation studies and make a public statement to this effect.
Being an early adopter of the nose-only exposure method, the university is identified as a significant user of this inhumane method in the report. However, with fewer students reported to be encouraged to pursue this method as part of their postgraduate research and human-relevant research increasingly conducted at the university, this presents an apt opportunity for the University of Newcastle to take a progressive stance and lead the way for other universities and institutes to follow. Your email will be sent to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation).
- This is highly invasive research, particularly nose-only smoke exposure, for a sustained period of time, from which the mice cannot escape. This kind of severe restraint causes significant stress to mice.
- There are additional animal welfare risks associated with the nose-only method such as the mice suffocating in the tube or complications due to faulty machines or human error. There are other unwanted impacts as well such as weight loss and hypothermia that the mice can experience while on the smoking tower.
- Mice may suffer from the painful conditions that are induced to recreate the human disease or condition
- Key anatomical differences between humans and rodents may impact inhalation data transferability
- The smoking habits of humans are not represented in animal models
- There are more sophisticated human-based inhalation models available to provide results of greater human relevance
What could researchers be doing differently?
HRA has commissioned a report to review the inhalation research currently being conducted at institutions in Australia, and how more sophisticated human-based models could be used to provide results of greater human relevance. Examples of these models include cell cultures and microphysiological systems, as well as human population studies and computational models.
The Wyss Institute lung-on-a-chip
Read HRA case studies profiling smoking mice research at:
University of Newcastle:
University of Melbourne:
Read HRA’s media release announcing our report release here.
Listen to our podcast episode here.