Mouse Cancer Models

Centuries of interest in mice

Mice have been kept as pets for many centuries, and there are written accounts that show that humans have been interested in the inheritance of traits in mice for at least 3,000 years; the oldest records are from China. Interest in mouse breeding gradually spread from China to Europe, via the Imperial courts of Japan; published reports on the inheritance of mouse coat color appeared in Europe in the eighteenth century.

The systematic breeding of mice for desirable traits, such as a particular coat color or pattern, unusual eye color, body size differences, or other characteristics, resulted in observations about spontaneous conditions that accompanied this practice. Many of the conditions - such as circling or "waltzing" - did not have a known molecular basis until the latter part of the 20th century, when understanding the genetics of such conditions in mice led to understanding the genetics of the corresponding human disorders.

Mice as a laboratory model system
The mouse was used as a laboratory animal as early as 1664, when Robert Hooke used one in his studies of the properties of air. Around 1902, the era of modern mouse genetics began when a Harvard researcher, William Castle, began studying inheritance in mice. Around the same time, Abbie Lathrop, a mouse breeder and entrepreneur, was generating colonies for mouse hobbyists and later for researchers. These included strains that she observed to develop tumors. Lathrop eventually teamed with Leo Loeb at the University of Pennsylvania and they authored numerous papers on their investigations. For more about the historical foundations of inbred mice you may want to explore the online book The Origins of Inbred Mice by Herbert Morse.

The laboratory mice used by Castle and Lathrop are the ancestors of most of the strains that are routinely used by researchers. A graphical display of the pedigree of these mice can be seen in a poster accompanying a publication of the historical route to the mice that are used today.

Mice on the leading edge

The National Cancer Institute, or NCI, has been pioneering new methods and technologies for cancer research and employing mouse models for decades. Ongoing projects such as the Mouse Models of Human Cancers Consortium (MMHCC) and the major CaBIG® initiative continue to provide a framework for employing animal models as one component of the translation of discovery to the clinic. Utilizing the resources and support provided by the NCI can benefit researchers by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of their research. Explore the Support for Animal Model Research section for information about grant opportunities and other useful program information.