Eur-eek!-a, they have found it!

Los Angeles: Just a short dispatch from the press room of the annual convention of the American Association for Cancer Research, which is celebrating its centennial this year. Considering the scale of the gathering--it fills the LA Convention Center--one would expect a basketball game to take place. But no. This is a convening of some of the most serious-minded people in the world, working on a disease that claims the lives of millions every year. It is, of course, an industry in itself--and that makes the trade show floor just as interesting ( and a bit less tedious) as the scientific workshops going on at the same time. And it is an industry largely built on the very tiny shoulders of our friend, mus musculus.

There are booths hawking every known immuno-assay known to man--and every mouse chow known to mouse: There is a "Love Mash" for reluctant breeders ("You drop one a these in there an you just step back! Cause they gonna go at it!"), and there are mouse diets meant to curtail--or encourage-cardiovascular disease in test mice. While many of the traditional pharma types are drudgingly giving their slick, hi-tech presentations of their latest onco-molecule, the mousetrepreneurs are decidedly low tech--but much happier. With the mouse as the dominant model in almost all medical science, they know they've got a bright future.

One of the most remarkable developments is the emergence of mouse ultrasound equipment, which allows a researcher to monitor in vivo the metabolic trail of any experimental drug. All you do is anesthetize the little fellow, mount a mouse-size oxygen mask on him, lay him on a special platform and administer a small capsule. The mouse's living internal organs light up giant on a screen--all the way down to various cell surface molecules. The machines go for anywhere between $150,000-$350,00, and people are buying them like crazy. The NIH has made sure of that, as has the continuing demand for new molecules by pharma. It's a mouse gold rush, as Fred Roberts, a (thankfully) low-key sales representative for Visual Sonics ( you can see the images at the their website of the same name). "As a guy whose been on the human side of medical imaging systems for 18 years, if you would have told me three years ago that I'd be selling a mouse imagining system, I'd tell you you were crazy," Fred says. "But the more I peeled back the onion on this industry, the more I became convinced that this is wherer the future is."

 More on the science later...