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Biology & Physiology Research

Decades of research involving rats as a model organism have informed biomedical researchers in basic biology, of course, but due to their larger size rats have been widely used to explore aspects of physiology that are more accessible than in smaller animals. 

In order to understand cancer, researchers also need to explore the biological functions of genes, pathways, and tissues in normal situations.  There are many examples of the discovery of important aspects of tissue development that have been gleaned from research on rat cancer.  For example, understanding the role of the APC gene and the development of the intestine are important for clues to what goes awry in colon cancer.  This knowledge helps in the generation of rat models that mimic human cancers as closely as possible.  The switches that activate various cellular functions that may trigger breast carcinomas have been important to grasp. This enables deeper understanding of the features of rat models of breast cancer.  Tracking the early changes in prostate cancer in rat models offers new insights as well.  The long-studied renal cancer model system has yielded crucial details on the genetics of cancer, and has led to discovery of new and useful models.  Pathways that may be aberrant and lead to the development of hepatocellular carcinoma offer possible mechanisms for intervention.

In addition to molecular details, investigations of other aspects of cancer such as angiogenesis and metastasis can be performed in rat systems.  Since the role of angiogenesis in tumor progression is important to know, researchers have used advances in imaging that can help to understand normal and disease-related changes in vasculature.  Metastasis via the lymphatic system has also been studied in rats.

Technical advances and high-throughput strategies will continue to provide insights into biology that can be aimed at rat models for further advances in our understanding of normal and pathological states.