Rethinking Healthcare

A personalized mouse to help develop tailored treatments

A personalized mouse to help develop tailored treatments

Posting in Cancer

A mouse with your immune system can help develop individualized therapies against autoimmune diseases, for example. One with your tumor can help test the effectiveness of cancer drug cocktails.

I posted several stories this week where mouse studies are leading researchers towards treatments for pancreatic cancer, an ASD called Rett syndrome, and even mental disorders involving memories.

Now, one step further… personalized mice. Researchers have recreated individual human immune systems in mice, as well as mouse avatars that have a specific patient’s tumor.

Since the mouse created for this purpose has no immune system of its own, a tissue transplant allows it to mimic a specific immune system or a particular cancer.

By offering individualized analysis of abnormalities, the mouse model could help predict how a particular patient might respond to existing drugs and help develop targeted immunotherapies.

Autoimmune diseases

A personalized immune mouse allows researchers to explore the genetic basis of diseases where the body’s own immune system attacks itself, like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

Studies of these autoimmune diseases are limited to patient blood samples, which makes it difficult to distinguish what underlies the disease. “We hope to find out what is fundamentally different about patients’ immune systems, compared with those of healthy individuals, before any disease develops,” study researcher Megan Sykes at Columbia University says in a news release.

To find a clean slate method for exploring the root cause of human immune disorders:

  1. They took stem cells from the bone marrow of adults with type 1 diabetes and injected the cells into mice who lack immune systems.
  2. Additionally, the team also implanted some human thymus tissue into their kidneys to serve as an incubator.
  3. Up to 8 weeks later, the mice were full of newly generated immune cells – a variety, including T cells, B cells, and myeloid cells – that didn’t attack healthy tissues.

Pancreatic cancer

Sean Grimmond of the University of Queensland and colleagues created mouse avatars to help doctors find the most effective cocktail of cancer drugs to combat a particular tumor – before giving them to a patient.

As Nature News explains, an 'avatar' is a term informally used by cancer researchers to describe a mouse or other animal onto which tissue from a human tumor is grafted to create a personalized model of one patient's cancer.

  1. They analyzed a patient’s pancreatic tumor to identify mutations that make it susceptible to particular drugs.
  2. Then they grafted a piece of the patient’s tumor onto a mouse with a deficient immune system.
  3. Then they tested the tumor’s response to drugs. The tumors shrank in the mouse.

Sykes’s study was published in Science Translational Medicine last week. Grimmond’s work was presented at the annual meeting of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) in Australia last week.

Image by Gilliard Lach via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure