A group of biologists that includes John B. Little, professor of Radiology at the School of Public Health, recently formed an association to encourage the use of Syrian hamsters in medical research.
The use of Syrian hamsters in cancer research would help scientists fight cancer by making it easier to identify carcinogenic substances, Fred Homborger, director of the Bio-Research Institute in Cambridge, said yesterday.
The hamsters are particularly useful because, unlike other rodents, they rarely develop cancer in the absence of carcinogenic substances, Homborger added. If scientists expose hamsters to a substance and they develop cancer, they can safely conclude that the substance actually caused the cancer, he added.
Syrian hamsters accounted for only a few thousand of the more than 43 million rodents used in scientific research last year, Homborger said. The association hopes that a drastic increase in the hamsters' use will enhance the effectiveness of cancer and other research.
Hamsters are also useful for research in other diseases, such as epilepsy, muscular distrophy, and obesity caused by glandular problems, Homborger said.