Weird science

I get the contents from a number of journals emailed to me and I then browse through to see if there’s anything interesting or relevant to me. Some might wonder why I do it that way when there are services which will send you only articles that fit specific key words. Simply put, my interests are much broader than just what I am working on and, this way, I can find things that I would otherwise miss.

For example, I would’ve missed seeing this abstract for research showing that people with lower back pain are more likely to have lower back pain later than people who didn’t have previous back pain. It’s about as surprising as a prediction that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, it was nothing compared to the weirdness I found this week.

An intravaginal ring for real-time evaluation of adherence to therapy

Now that’s a weird title! I go take a look at the abstract to get an idea of what is going on and I find this:

Following initial in vitro testing in a temperature-controlled chamber, the device was evaluated in vivo in sheep using a predetermined insertion/removal pattern to simulate intravaginal ring use. After insertion into the vaginal cavity of a sheep, the logged data correctly indicated the device status over 29 hours of continuous measurement including three cycles of insertion and removal.

The weirdness is basically off the charts at this point! I can’t resist and I have to look through the whole paper. Basically, they just want to make sure they people are taking their medicine, such as anti-retrovirals, and need a way to monitor it. The idea is to use a small silicone ring which releases the treatment over time and uses temperature to determine if it is or isn’t inserted, allowing a clinician to check that the therapy is being followed. Yet we get some lines that one would not be surprised to find in 50 Shades of Grey!

Sheep were flipped, hooded and hobbled, and placed in lateral recumbency.

Kinky! Also questionable writing since “lateral recumbency” seems to just mean “lying on its side”, which would be much easier to read.

I must admit, I did have some questions after reading it. The first one being, why use sheep? Why use animal models in general, since they mention similar work that used macaques, if the device is intended for human use. It doesn’t look like a female was involved in the paper but it shouldn’t be that hard to find a volunteer. It would make a bit more sense and it’s not like you don’t need ethical approval for animal research. The authors even mention approval for testing should be easy to get.

It wasn’t about sample size. It seems like they had a grand total of one device tested in one sheep. Although that’s not entirely clear. They say things like “was evaluated in a Rambouillet X Columbia sheep” and don’t mention numbers, which suggests it was a single sheep. However, they also say “Sheep were” which is plural. I guess they thought it sounded more scientific than “the sheep was.”

All in all, it was quite an amusing find which entertained me for a while and is a good reason for browsing scientific articles rather than getting stuck in too narrow a view of what is out there.

Edit: I realised why they didn’t use humans. They are testing to make sure the device reads inserted or removed state correctly to make sure people take their medicine correctly. You can’t trust people to use it how it’s meant to be used and, if you could, it wouldn’t be needed. But a sheep can’t remove it and reinsert it, so you know the measurements you get are of what you are supposed to be measuring.

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