Stanford Researcher Challenges use of Mice for Human Disease Studies

Mark Davis, PhD, director of the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, says it is time for researchers to start looking at humans instead of mice for answers to disease prevention and cures in humans. According to Davis, "Mice are lousy models for clinical studies. Dr. Davis points out that mice are not part of our evolutionary ancestry. Instead, Dr. Davis suggests we use a system based on the human genome for developing a better understanding of human disease.

In his essay, published December 19 in Immunity, Dr. Davis writes…”think about what we can do with people. People come to hospitals, get vaccinations, give blood and tissue samples for routine lab tests and clinical trials. We're not learning nearly as much as we could from these samples. As with the recent history of human genetics, we could be much bolder."

Davis instead, suggests the formation of a national or international infrastructure that could acquire information from human blood and tissue samples, then analyzed in a cost-effective manner. He proposes that immunological assays could be returned to investigators in a timely fashion, and maintained in the database, all in a standardized fashion. The database would include tissue and blood samples from healthy, as well as diseased individuals for comparison, and used in conjunction with traditional small lab research.

Stanford was one of the large institutions involved in the controversial Human Genome Project, which was carried out in small numbers, starting October 1990 and completed in 2003. Dr. Davis says, "The Human Genome Project didn't destroy the small lab. It complemented it”, though the project has been the subject of much debate.

In his essay, Davis writes, "What if we could define the normal range for all these parameters, and then see how they're changed by any of the over 100 infectious diseases, or 90-odd autoimmune disorders, or more than 120 inherited immune deficiencies that afflict us — or, for that matter, by aging or even vaccination? Maybe we could see something coming early on and start applying remedies to restore the normal balance and prevent the disease's progression”.

Dr. Davis also poignantly says, "We've been selected by urbanization, with plagues such as the bubonic plague and smallpox that routinely killed huge numbers of people, and modern scourges like HIV and malaria that still infect and kill millions each year. Most humans are infected with six different herpes viruses, and who knows what else. And while we're suffering away, getting colds and flu, the mice are living in the lap of luxury in miniature condominiums, with special filters on the cage tops to keep bad things out. They're in such pristine shape.”

Stanford’s Dr. Davis is taking nothing away from the contributions from mice. However, he says researchers have come to rely on the results of studies that genetically manipulate disease free mice – many of which have ended in failure.


Mouse trap? Stanford immunologist calls for more research on humans, not mice