Anyone who works in the lab animal industry knows the woes of “skin picking”, “scratch lesions”, or the technical term of idiopathic ulcerative dermatitis in mice. For those of you not in lab animal medicine, it’s basically an abnormal behavior of scratching, picking, or licking to the point of injury and notably plagues mice of a C57 strain background. This issue causes stress and injury, which in turn provides poor scientific results and often results in premature removal from a study and euthanasia.

A few years ago a colleague and I, at our wits end on the ineffective treatments that were the standard of care, trimmed the rear paw nails of a badly injured mouse. Much to our surprise and relief, the animal healed in just a few days. This was serendipitous to say the least and has worked well ever since but not all mice respond to this treatment, nail trimming does not help with over grooming or lick lesions.

Scientists at Stanford however may have found the missing link in antioxidants. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), used by cells to make a naturally occurring antioxidant (glutathione)in the brain, and  straight glutathione were given to several test groups of mice with most showing improvement. The test group that received just the glutathione showed the most success and with the compound delivered intra-nasal, it went directly to the brain and had none of the gastrointestinal distress seen with the NAC. As a woman of science, I am looking forward to utilizing this treatment in conjunction with the nail trims for complete healing and better studies.

The next step? Human trial for those that suffer from the shame and embarrassment of a skin picking disorder. Science that helps improve the animals, many studies, and humans!

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