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Lab Mice Treated To Pedicure To Ward Off Infectious Skin Disease [VIDEO]

Jan 11, 2016 04:10 PM EST
Millions of lab mice suffer from a spontaneous, infectious skin disease known as ulcerative dermatitis.
(Photo : Flickr: Micolo J)

Stanford University researchers have created a remarkably simple cure for a life-threatening disease that is common among lab mice: pedicures.

A spontaneous skin disease, ulcerative dermatitis, affects between four and 21 percent of laboratory mice, depending on factors such as age and genetics. When infected, mice suffer from deep, ulcerated lesions that become progressively worse with repeated scratching, eventually leading to unplanned euthanasia, according to a news release.  

In the latest study, led by Sean Adams, a third-year resident in laboratory animal medicine at Stanford, researchers designed a simple plastic device that briefly immobilizes the rodents so caregivers can quickly trim their dagger-like claws. The results are simple: cutting the toenails kept the mice from reaching infected areas and causing more trauma.

"This is a simple, cheap, effective means of treating ulcerative dermatitis, which represents the single most preventable reason for euthanasia," Adams said in the university's release.  "I think it's a very surprising finding in how simple this technique is."

In total, researchers found that some 93 percent of the mice whose toenails were trimmed were permanently cured of the condition, and those that received pedicures lived three times longer than their counterparts who were treated with topical ointments. Each pedicure took two minutes or less, which saves time and is far less expensive than applying daily anti-inflammatory ointments. It also means the test subjects are around a lot longer and this aids in research.

While the cause of ulcerative dermatitis remains a mystery, researchers suggest the disease is related to genetics, diet, environment, behavior, or a combination. Generally, the infection emerges at the nape of a mouse's neck, where the area becomes red and inflamed. (Scroll to read more...)

Ulcerative Dermatitis
(Photo : Sean Adams)
Before and after mice received pedicure treatment.

"Because the lesions itch, animals begin scratching the area with their sharp hind claws as many as 20 to 25 times a minute, "Adams said.

With repeated irritation, the condition often spread's to the animal's face, flank and back.

"Now we have this mouse with just shreds of fur on the body. They rip themselves apart," he added.

Over a six-week period of both trimming the animals' toenails and applying Vetericyn – a form of bleach that inhibits bacterial growth and helps calm inflammation –  researchers were surprised that the animals refrained from scratching their wounds when their nails grew back, thus allowing their infection to heal.

"This really does break the cycle to allow a cure to occur. It is completely different from the other treatments out there," Adams concluded.

However, their treatment was not successful at curing animals that had lesions on their flank, or side, since the mice would instead chew the area to relieve pain.  

Their study was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE

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