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Lab mice stressed by male experimenters, skewing biomedical research results by 36 percent

Biomedical research
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(NaturalNews) If the findings of biomedical research tend to apply poorly in real-world environments, despite the "documented results" of controlled lab experiments, the scientific world has just been shocked to find out (at least one of the reasons) why.

In the paper titled, "The effects of experimenter gender on pain report in male and female subjects," published in Nature Methods, Jeffrey Mogil, Ph.D., Professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and others conclude that exposure to the smell of male sweat induces stress and acts "like a painkiller" for the mice being experimented on. According to Mogil, lab results therefore are highly influenced by the experimenter's gender and published findings may be distorted by 35% to 40%.

"We were stunned by the results," says Mogil. Read and listen to the fascinating study procedures and summary.

Findings rife with major implications

Since the gender effect of investigators has never been acknowledged empirically before (although, Mogil admits it has long been a hunch among lab workers), then up to centuries of archives of lab data that biosciences rest on may be full of quite damning irregularities.

"This is very important work with wide-ranging implications," says M. Catherine Bushnell, a neuroscientist and the scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study. "Many people doing research have never thought of this."

"This could be a very big deal because there are any number of existing findings where stress is known to effect those findings," says Mogil, who further expounds in a radio interview from CBC News in Montreal.

Needed: Better ways of gaining and using knowledge

Asked what might be some ways to counteract the gender-stress response effect, in the interview, Mogil recommends some possible corrective approaches, but admits that research labs, including his own, are unlikely to use most of them:
  • For example, only experimenters of the same gender could be allowed to study certain phenomena, he says.

  • The scientific community could establish a standard acclimatization period for male experimenters around mice and rats, in order to let the stress response to males wear off, which Mogil says would take about 35 minutes.

  • Alternatively, the institution of biomedical science could shift some of the emphasis from mouse and rat lab research, towards more attention on in-the-real-world modalities and lifestyle transformations, which require no painful animal studies, and are proven over time in the human contexts that matter.
Mogil says, instead, the likely action that will be taken is that the genders of the experimenters will be noted "in the 'Methods' section of published papers."

It has not been determined whether this will be sufficient to improve the wildly varying results of biomedical research hinging on the gender effect.

Authorities forced to explicitly admit the unreliability of studies

The website of the scientific journal, Nature, reports, "Rats and mice show increased stress levels when handled by men rather than women, potentially skewing study results."

Meanwhile, McGill University's website reports, "Scientists' inability to replicate research findings using mice and rats has contributed to mounting concern over the reliability of such studies."

As the new finding demonstrates yet again, the classic observer effect dating to Werner Heisenberg seems to be at play in biomedical research. It raises the question, is it time to systematically re-insert the human factor in our basic understanding of life and medicine?

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About the author:
Michael Bedar MA, BS, is the co-founder of YoelMedia.com. He is a writer of both nonfiction and allegories. As a researcher, writer, holistic wellness counselor, certified Live-Food Nutrition Counselor, and filmmaker, he is the associate producer with a founding role in the documentary, "Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days" and is the writer-director of "EcoParque." Bedar, who studied Cognitive Science and Environmental Chemistry, teaches meditation weekly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and supports people to benefit in their wellness through nutrition support, juice cleanses, and counseling. He has a master's in Live-Food Nutrition from the Cousens School of Holistic Wellness, is a minister, and is co-director of Tree of Life - Bay Area.

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