Mouse Made For You

Mice “avatars” grafted with patient tumor tissue help identify effective drug regimens.

Mar 23, 2012
Megan Scudellari

Last week at the annual meeting of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) in Australia, researchers from the University of Queensland in Brisbane presented new research about personalized mice “avatars”—mice grafted with a patient’s tumor tissue and then tested with various drugs to identify the most effective treatment against that tumor.

“Using a personalized cancer avatar makes it possible to try out different combinations and make some mistakes before going into the clinic,” Edison Liu, president of HUGO and head of the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor in Maine told Nature. “It’s the direction in which a lot of research groups are going.”

In a proof-of-concept test of the idea, the Queensland team created a personalized mouse for a pancreatic cancer patient. They then tested the response of the patient’s tumor carried by the mouse to the drug mitomycin C, and found that it was effective. Unfortunately, the patient died before he could be treated with the drug. But the researchers believe the technique is a promising approach, especially if the avatar is created as early as possible in a cancer’s progression.

Mouse avatars could also be used to identify appropriate subgroups of patients for clinical trials. Currently, many clinical trials for cancer drugs shut down when too few patients respond to the treatment. A more appropriate patient population, identified via “avatars,” could help more drugs make it to the clinic, Nature reported.