Historical interest in hamsters
Although one of the less commonly known model systems, laboratory hamsters have been used for decades as a model for biomedical research for a variety of topics. Syrian golden hamsters, Cricetus auratus, became available to researchers in the 1940s, and were quickly adopted because of their favorable characteristics for a number of research avenues. Chinese hamsters, Cricetus griseus, is another species used for this work.
In the 1970s it was observed that treating hamsters with a certain compound created a reproducible model that resembled the progression of human pancreatic cancer. Further studies have confirmed that this system replicates the human tumor biology more effectively than other animal models, and it continues to provide insights today.
Hamsters as a laboratory model system
Hamsters also provide a well-characterized model of oral carcinogenesis. The cheek pouch of hamsters can be treated with a carcinogenic compound, and the outcome mimics the development of human oral squamous cell carcinoma very effectively. Studies involving the tumor-inducing SV40 virus have been pursued in hamsters, and those studies continue to yield insights and potentially useful models of various lymphomas.
Another strategy developed using hamsters has utility in hamster models and beyond. The Greene melanoma model consists of cell cultures derived originally from hamsters that can be transplanted to various tissues and organs in hamsters and other animals. This represents a way to study malignant melanoma that has yielded insights to disease mechanisms and treatments.
Progress in understanding the mechanisms and potential therapeutics for these cancers may come from the hamster models. Additional benefits would be provided by hamster genomics projects and development of transgenic strategies.