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Study: Mice Not Best Models for All Human Disease

Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows four different breeds of lab mice that are being crossbred into a new large population of mice intended to mimic genetic diversity, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennesse, Feb. 2007.
Biomedical researchers have long used mice in the laboratory to learn about human diseases and to test treatments. A new study finds, though, that mouse models do not accurately reflect the complexity of human responses, especially to serious inflammatory stress.

One of the authors of the new study, Harvard Medical School professor Ronald Tompkins, said the results do not mean that mice should not be used in lab research, but rather that "we need to recognize that simple model systems do not reproduce complex human disease."

For the first time, the researchers compared genetic changes in people treated for trauma. They found consistent responses to different types of trauma and different drug treatments. Genetic responses in mice varied widely, however, suggesting that drugs that work in mice may not be as effective in people.

Scientists previously have questioned how well mouse models can reflect the complex physiology of human disease and response to injury. But Tomkins said this study is the first time the genomic differences between the human and mouse responses "have been laid bare so systematically."

But other researchers not involved in the study note that the laboratory mice Tomkins and colleagues used for their research are highly inbred, unlike humans, and that the single mouse variety they used is not representative of the genetic diversity in the general mouse population. They suggest that before mice models are deemed irrelevant to human disease research, further studies should be done with other mouse strains.