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Not a Mirror

Mice and rats aren't little, furry versions of people, and researchers should stop treating them as such, Stanford University Medical Center's Joseph Garner tells NPR.

A number of drugs that appear to work in such model organisms often don't in humans, NPR adds, noting that that the discrepancy could be due to differences between them and people, differences among the model organisms themselves, as well as due to other assumptions researchers make.

Stanford's Garner and his colleagues tried to run identical experiments at half a dozen research sites in Europe using genetically identical mice, but at each spot, they came up with different results. Rather than trying to make everything identical, variation between model organisms themselves should be embraced, Garner adds. He argues model organisms should be treated like mini-patients.

Additionally, Weill Cornell Medical School's Gregory Petsko tells NPR that models of disease make certain assumptions about the underlying mechanisms that might not be true. Instead, he says that researchers might learn more from human cells, while Emory's Todd Preuss adds that much could be learned by examining what people and animals have in common and what they do not.

"You have to think outside of the model box," he says.