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A better mouse, not a better mousetrap

Mouse science may benefit human and animal health. Genetically defined mouse models would offer a tractable experimental system for mapping the genes underlying disease and for examining their function in the context of a complex human body. Geneticists can begin to look deeper into conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

At face value, animal health, like human health, is no longer a great mystery.

We don’t have to look any further than the barn, cattle pen, family clinic or hospital to know that veterinarians and medical doctors are using all types of newly developed medicines and vaccines to fight a plethora of microbial diseases that affect both human and animal health systems.

From the latest flu vaccines and medications to treat conditions like Aids and Alzheimer diseases in humans and enteritis, leptospirosis or infectious bovine rhinotracheictis (IBR) in cattle and porcine pneumonia in swine, modern medicine is providing a first and last defense against dangerous diseases in both the home and on the farm.

But thanks to a new and novel mouse population there is now hope that a new era of human and animal health research is just around the corner, one that has the potential for extending the long arm of medical research and possibly providing not-too-distant treatments and cures for such fatal diseases as cancer, rabies and other serious deadly diseases.

It started back in 2001 when a group of geneticists sitting around enjoying a round of beers after a long day at a conference table stumbled on an idea for systems genetics, namely, a lab mouse with greater genetic diversity than the mouse population being used at the time for medical research, one whose genetic structure would more align with that of the human species.

Researcher Gary Churchill suggested genetically defined mouse models would offer a tractable experimental system for mapping the genes underlying disease and for examining their function in the context of a complex human body.

The lab mice of the time were limited addressing the important role of genetic variation and incapable of providing researchers a method of strong mapping gene resolution, hampering their effectiveness to illustrate how genetic engineering might benefit the human-animal genome.

More perfect mouse

The solution in this case seemed to be a better mouse instead of a better mouse trap, and before long Churchill went to work on the idea in his lab and eventually developed a more perfect mouse. Through a comprehensive breeding program and using only limited funding sources, he created a super mouse, but breeding the mice in sufficient quantity to have a major impact on genetic research promised to be a monumental and costly task.

It was time for more innovative thinking, and before long Churchill had secured the support of a number of independent laboratories in Tennessee, Kenya and Australia, and collectively developed a mice population bred from eight founding mouse strains to encompass 90-percent of the diversity of the whole mouse genome, a number more in line with the amount of variation in the human genome.

Ten years later the project has finally found a home at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where over 400 “CC” mouse strains are under development, and Churchill says already the rodent medical soldiers are being shipped to labs around the world with designs of tackling such diverse human genetics as those involved in cancer, aging, fertility and more.

Because of the new CC strain, geneticists can begin to look deeper into conditions like diabetes and heart disease, giving rise to hope that science may soon be able to provide treatments and medications that could help with age-old health problems for the human race.

Already scientist have began using the new mouse population for studying human host response to the flu, realizing that modern vaccines are limited because they were designed to treat all recipients the same regardless of individual health conditions. For instance, a perfectly health young adult receives the same vaccine as a senior over 65 years with underlying health conditions. New vaccines may be developed that could take these human conditions into consideration, developing vaccines to better fit people based upon their health conditions.

The new mouse population may also offer future benefits to agriculture. With the antibiotics in animal feed controversy resurfacing in federal court, geneticists say medical research related to farm animals using the new mouse strain could offer advanced treatments and medicines for veterinarian application that could help make food safer for consumption and animals healthier on the farm.

The next step is for scientists to develop better methods of storing phenotypic data about the mice and exploring other ways they can be used to address a wide range of health issues including both animal and human conditions.

More information on the project is available at the Churchill Group Web site.For additional reading, click here.

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