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The Mouse Model

While cancer has been cured in lab mice, such therapies often fail in human trials, which has some calling into question the usefulness of mice as model organisms, Discover's The Crux blog says.

While it notes that mice and humans share a good portion of their DNA, it points out that they differ some 3 percent of the time. "It turns out, that on a genetic level, these differences … even if they're small, can really be important," Christopher Austin, the director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, tells The Crux.

In addition, there are environmental differences between lab mice and real-world patients. The Crux notes that there's some evidence that if mice are exposed to the same viruses that people are, rather than kept in sterile conditions, they become better models.

These and other differences need to be accounted for, The Crux says. And one way could be to use the CRISPR gene-editing tool to improve the lab mouse to be a better model. However, it adds that more needs to be known about mice to do so, and  the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium is pursuing a deeper understanding of the mouse.

Despite their flaws, the Crux says mice are likely to stick around as model organisms. "Mice may not always be the perfect model for understanding our own bodies, but they do hold real value to researchers," it says, adding that " [t]heir usefulness will only increase as scientists devise better ways to raise and modify them to compensate for their shortcomings."