How and Why Mouse Cancer Models are Used

Early research studies

Researchers have studied laboratory mice asmodels of human cancer for a century, long before the demonstration that DNA is the molecule of inheritance or that DNA is organized into discrete genes.  In 1907, a Harvard undergraduate, Clarence T. Little, who worked with William Castle, was studying mouse coat color, and discovered that the inheritance of color did not follow Mendelian rules. His experience with this research interest led him to develop a type of mouse model called an inbred strain for his work.  During his graduate research, he studied the genetics of cancer susceptibility and resistance, and showed that inbred mice were key to understanding the immunology of tumor transplantation.  Today's cancer researchers benefit enormously from pioneers like Clarence Little, who was also the founder of The Jackson Laboratory, an internationally renowned center for research in mammalian genetics.

Advantages of mice
Medical researchers use mice for numerous reasons.  Mice are small, require little food or housing space, have consistent disease manifestations, have good-sized litters of offspring, are easy to handle, and can be readily shipped from breeding facilities to research locations.  Their use as cancer models has provided exceptional insight into the biology of human cancers, and, more recently, their genetics.

Another major reason that mice are used is the similarity of mouse and human genetics.  The mouse was the first mammal whose genome was sequenced when the human genome sequence was almost completed.  Genome sequencing of mice and many other mammals reveals the extent of cross-species genomic similarity.  This greatly increased the value of animal models for research on cancer and many other human disorders.

The long history of mouse research, with the supporting infrastructure, has enabled many methods, strategies, techniques, data and reagent resources to be established. These include:

          Genetically engineered mouse models (GEM)

          Inbred mice

          Transplantation model

          Carcinogen-induced and spontaneous models

which are used in different ways to explore the biomedical features of cancer today. There are advantages and challenges for any given system. 

To learn more about the foundations and utilities of these different types of models you can explore the links at the left.