Humanized mice are evolving in immuno-oncology research and opening the door to more precise ways of treating patients.

Mouse models have been a vital tool in biomedical research for decades.  These models have grown in sophistication, while the ways we use research models has also expanded. This is particularly true in oncology, where we now have a wide variety of immunodeficient strains to examine the in vivo growth of human tumors and to test new cancer treatments.

One of the most popular models is immunodeficient mice endowed with a humanized immune system using CD34+ hematopoietic stem cells. Such mice are seen as uniquely valuable in studying the interactions between human immune cells and human cancers and to test novel immunotherapies. In fact, humanized mice have played a crucial role in getting immuno-oncology drugs to market.

Jenny Rowe, PhD, a Research Scientist with Research Models Services at Charles River Laboratories says the humanized mouse has evolved from a relatively straightforward model with a basic human immune system to a model that will help find treatments for diseases.

“There is a bigger emphasis on human cytokine production that could be present in some of these immuno-oncology systems which we think may be more relevant to looking at some of these immuno-oncology drugs and more applicable for the actual patients,” says Rose. “These models I are becoming better so we can look at those specifics more closely.”

For instance, one can now take a humanized mouse with a functional immune system, implant tumor cell lines or patient-derived xenografts—chunks of tissue from the patient tumor—into the mouse and have those interact together,  and look at potential drugs to see which ones work better.

“Eventually one should be able to reach a more personalized level where we’ll be able to implant tissue from a specific patient’s cancer and go right into the animal and find out which drug on a list works on that particular cancer,” says Rowe. “This would be wonderful.”

However, working with humanized mice also presents unique challenges, including the age of the mouse and how long the cells that are put into the mouse are viable.

To learn more about humanized mice, catch our video chat. And if you would like to learn more about the humanized mouse models at Charles River check out this site.