December 01, 2016

A Jackson Lab mouse, called The Nude, poses for the camera. Credit: Caroline Lester

Almost all of our medicine is developed and tested using mice. We give them human diseases, and then try to understand their illness. And it’s worked. We’ve cured a lot of things in mice. But for humans, there are some problems with the system.

Three Takeaways:

  • For centuries, people bred mice for fun (and sometimes fur) - and, in the process, created special strains of inbred mice. Biologists, who desperately needed animals who were genetically similar, realized they could use those mice for experiments. Mice became the go-to lab animal.
  • “Many drugs that look promising in mice don’t work in humans,” says Dr. David Sinclair, who studies aging at Harvard Medical School. As a consequence, “drug companies have lost billions of dollars.” Indeed, cancer drugs that work in mice have about an 8% success rate in humans. One of the only successful tuberculosis drugs has no effect in mice.
  • The best substitute for mice may turn out to be an organ-on-a-chip. It’s small, about the size of a gummy bear. To create it, Don Ingber makes tiny hollow channels, lined with cells from different organs like our lungs or our gut, and winds them through the center of the chip. Ingber eventually plans to create custom organs, linked together and lined with personalized cells.

lung on a chip

Lung on a Chip. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

More Reading:

fancy mouse

A camera-shy fancy mouse. If you look closely, you can see her cashmere fur. Credit: Caroline Lester

NPR, Caroline Lester, innovation hub, Kara Miller, WGBH, pri

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