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Thursday, July 14, 2011

'Humanized' Mice to help Scientists in Drug Tests

A graduate student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a way to grow humanized liver cells inside mice and thereby potentially increasing the accuracy of drug tests conducted on the animals.
Although scientists commonly use mice for biomedical research, they are not always helpful for pharmaceutical testing. Because mouse livers react to drugs differently than human livers, they often can’t be used to predict whether a potential drug will be toxic to people.

The unique physiology of the human liver means that the toxicity of some candidate drugs is not picked up during preclinical tests in animals. But mice implanted with miniature human livers can mimic the ways in which the human body breaks down chemical compounds, to help spot potential problems before drugs are tested in humans.

To create this artificial liver, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US cultured human liver cells, called hepatocytes, in a controlled environment with other factors, such as mouse skin cells.

They then implanted the liver under the skin or inside the body cavity of mice, successfully recreating many of the functions of a human liver.

Previous efforts to create such humanized mice have involved injecting human cells into mice with damaged livers. As the human cells repair the damage, they take up residence the liver, but the process takes months to complete and the resulting livers contain a variable proportion of human cells. The new technique takes just a couple of weeks, making it easier for scientists to spot potential toxic side effects of drugs in animal models before moving to human trials, saving money and possibly avoiding unexpected health problems in clinical trials, the authors argue.

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