Published: 3 years ago

Don’t Waste Your Guinea Pig

In 1940, an Australian pathologist named Howard Florey conducted a clinical trial to examine the effect of penicillin on mice. He injected eight mice with deadly bacteria, and followed up with a penicillin treatment on half the mice. Within 24 hours, the untreated mice went to that great cheese wheel in the sky, and the treated mice lived to squeak another day. What’s more, penicillin became the standard antibiotic that has saved countless millions of lives over the last seven decades.

But what if Florey and his team had chosen instead to experiment with the old standby, the¬†guinea pig? As it turns out, guinea pigs are allergic to penicillin. They’d be toes up quicker than you can imagine, and researchers might assume that what’s bad for the rodent is bad for the human.*

My point: just because it kills your guinea pig doesn’t mean it’s going to kill your mouse. And just because your idea doesn’t work in one context doesn’t mean it won’t work in another. Experiment. Try. Fail. Try again. Tweak. Revise. Experiment some more. The lifesaving solution you’re looking for might be just around the corner.


*Thanks to the Surprisingly Awesome Podcast (episode 1) for today’s science lesson. And if you’re a true science nerd, you’ll want to read the counterpoint from Speaking of Research.


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