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MSU’s McCabe: Microbes in Lab Mice Skew Research Results

Laura McCabe, professor of osteopathic medicine, poses in her office on Monday February 11, 2013.

Michigan State University’s Laura McCabe, professor in the Departments of Physiology and Radiology, was recently highlighted in the prestigious magazine Science for her revelation that seemingly identical laboratory mice were exhibiting radically different outcomes in repeated experiments.

The article “Mouse microbes may make scientific studies harder to replicate” explores how McCabe, who studies bone loss related to gut inflammation, observed a remarkable phenomenon that could affect researchers throughout the world.

She was conducting a drug trial with lab mice to see how a particular drug affected bone loss and wanted to replicate her results carefully. The experiment was done three times with the same strain of mice, produced by the same vendor. McCabe kept them under the same conditions: same type of cage, same bedding, same room.

The first trial showed bone loss, the second showed bone growth, and the third showed… no change.

Further investigation revealed that each of the three groups of lab mice actually had very different gut microbes and that fact was affecting the results of the study right from the start.

The core issue according to JR Haywood, assistant vice president for MSU’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, is about reproducibility or the ability for research to be replicated, a basic principle of the scientific method. If a study cannot be reproduced under the same conditions as it was originally done, the results must be called into question. “I think what this [reproducibility] conversation is doing is expanding the variables for investigators to think about,” says Haywood.

Learn more about McCabe’s research: “Females Fend Off Gut Diseases” and “Building Healthy Bones Takes Guts.”

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