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When existing models didn’t fully address her human-specific questions, Theresa Lee went back to the drawing board — or, more accurately, to trees, zoos and traps. Lee has developed a unique menagerie of animal models to study circadian rhythms, including Siberian hamsters, flying squirrels, prairie dogs and sheep.
Some of these models didn’t quite work out: European hamsters turned out to be way too vicious, for example. But others modeled human behavior better than existing animal studies did. For example, she found that the Chilean degus, a rare example of a rodent that is not nocturnal, has disrupted circadian rhythms during adolescence — the perfect model in which to study sleep problems in teenage boys.
After a session called, ‘How to pick the right species for the right problem: Creating a ‘Non-Standard’ research career” at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, Lee talked to SFARI about the benefits of using multiple animal models to study neurological disorders such as autism.
For more reports from the 2010 Society for Neuroscience meeting, please click here.