Animal & Lab Studies

research-mouse-heroStories about research in animals or about research in the laboratory but not yet in humans (sometimes called pre-clinical or in-vitro studies) should include warnings about how this research may not pan out in people. Stories that fail to include such information may paint a brighter picture for possible application in humans than is actually the case.

Nonetheless, preliminary research stories continue to be reported. In the future, we may follow up on some of these stories to see how many panned out in people. Here are some examples:

  • Appetite-suppressing hormone discovered (in rats)
  • Hay fever vaccine in mice
  • Statin curbs smoking lung damage in rats
  • Preventing lung cancer in mice

A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Genomic responses in mouse models poorly mimic human inflammatory diseases,” should serve as a reminder to journalists that mice are not men – if they needed that reminder.

Also see the Life In The Fast Lane blog post, “Animal and laboratory studies,” which gives this overview comment:

  • animal and laboratory studies form the lowest level of evidence for informing clinical decision

Comments (5)

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Elaine Iandoli

May 22, 2015 at 11:57 am

I’m interested in how, then, to promote animal studies that researchers are working on that might help launch clinical trials in humans. My university’s researchers are working on several studies that are advancing knowledge and providing findings that may form the basis for new research directions. If that’s spelled out, are these stories not considered newsworthy?

Gary Schwitzer

May 22, 2015 at 12:35 pm


Thanks for your note.

First, since we’re talking about journalism here, I don’t think “promote” is the correct term. True reporting and independent evaluation of the quality of the evidence, including a discussion of limitations, is required. None of what we’ve written should suggest that basic research, including animal studies, is not newsworthy. But their findings should not be promoted nor portrayed as something they are not – such as evidence of efficacy in humans. Journalists should leave the crystal ball predictions to the fortune tellers. That is not what patients and other readers need from stories about very early stages of research. If proper context and caveats are in place, sound science journalism can inform the public about the potential for early research without hyping it.

Gary Schwitzer

Dr. Todd Feinman

March 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Is there any evidence/documentation on the % of animal studies that demonstrated that the animals in these studies were experiencing “opposite” outcomes compared to humans for the exact same disease and interventions (ie: animal’s vitals improve but get worse in humans for same intervention)? This data would help determine the reliability of animal models.

Odette Hélie

January 12, 2018 at 8:11 am


Shouldn’t we be careful also about observational or epidemiological studies (biais, confounding variables, etc.) ? Many health advices come from such studies. Am I right to think that they should be taken only as a sign that an hypothesis should be studied further or put on ice ?

Kevin Lomangino

January 12, 2018 at 10:39 am


You are absolutely correct that we should also be careful about observational studies. We’ve written about this countless times and some of that content is collected here:

Animal/lab research is simply another area where readers and journalists need to exercise caution — but it’s far from the only one!

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Kevin Lomangino
Managing Editor