Monday, February 10, 2014

Baby guinea pigs!

Minutes old - Cornflake with her babies just minutes after giving birth.
NEWSFLASH! Tonight Professor Thomas Hartung will be kicking off a national lecture tour on animals in toxicology testing.

For those interested, the first lecture is at the University of Sydney tonight:

Every year, about $3 billion is spent worldwide on animal tests to ensure the safety of consumer products—including drugs, chemicals, food, and cosmetics. While pesticides and drugs are extensively tested, food additives are mostly not, and the testing of cosmetics is even banned in some parts of the world. But what are these animal tests worth when a common, relatively safe drug like aspirin fails most of them? Over the last two decades a biotech revolution has taken place. Exciting technical advances underlie the next generation of safety tests. The 2014 public lecture series will challenge our basic assumptions of toxicity testing and explore how we can promote the uptake of non-animal methods.

For more information, visit here.

On a mildly unrelated note [remember that guinea pigs are used in medical research, so frequently that the term "guinea pig" is used to refer to anyone subject to an experiment, whatever species they are. For example, "I can't come over tonight, I'm being a guinea pig for Sarah's psych assignment questionnaire"], SAT has important guinea pig news to report.

This weekend saw the happy conclusion of Cornflake's tense pregnancy (when I say tense, I mean tense for me as I've been primed for a caesarean all week thanks to the enormous appearance of the foetal skeletons on a radiograph taken seven days ago).
On Saturday when I got home from work the formerly expectant mum was gently teasing the afterbirth off a tiny body with flaccid legs like she'd done it ten thousand times. No antenatal classes. No pre-packed hospital bag of necessities. No attacks of the 50 foot hormones (although that is a very fine resource for gravid homo-sapiens). 
Within ten minutes of arriving, those flaccid legs had adapted to gravity and were transporting a baby guinea pig through a maze of orchard glass. Within three hours they could run.
The amazing thing about baby guinea pigs is this: they look like miniature pigs, just smaller. In fact, they look like a guinea pig head with feet on the back and not much in the middle.

During the week I had partitioned the enclosure so that Randy and Cornflake could be in visual, olfactory and auditory contact without their nether regions mingling. The plan was to avoid a post-partum shag-fest. As it happened, Randy had jumped the barrier. As soon as the bubs could walk, minutes after poor little Cornflake's incredible efforts, he made an intimate attempt (not surprising given his name, but his libido had been repressed prior to the series of events leading to this pregnancy). Fortunately I saw it all unfold before my eyes, and was able to intervene before his undercarriage made contact. He is now living in an enclosure next door and will do so until the babies are four weeks old.

The kids, meantime, needed names. This is a challenging task, but I am of the school of thought that whatever comes into one's head first is probably the best choice. Meet Osler and Cushing, named after two of my favourite medical heroes. Each weighed a healthy 110 grams when born.

Cornflake (rear) watches over Osler (far left) and Cushing (right), just three hours after giving birth.

Little Cushing in focus as he explores his new surroundings (hopefully he won't be as temperamental as his namesake).
Osler peers out from a cardboard box.

In all likelihood, Osler and Cushing will live out their days at SAT headquarters, although which enclosure they will be kept in will be determined by their sex (yet to be assessed...just letting them get used to the world a little more).