Bypassing The Limitations of Cancer Research In Humans

Osmosis Team
Jun 24, 2017

Cancer is one of the toughest enemies of human health. We've spent billions of dollars across several decades trying to conquer it, yet there are still many forms of cancer that remain unbeatable.

One of the fundamental problems in cancer research is finding an effective way to test potential therapies. There's no way to know how a human body will react to a given treatment, nor what impact that treatment will have on the cancer, without administering the drug to a person with cancer.

There are three problems there. First, it is costly, slow, and difficult to get therapies approved for research in humans. Second, it is very difficult to identify test subjects who meet the necessary criteria in terms of age, cancer type and stage, and overall health. And finally, it is ethically wrong to withhold a therapy that might work in favor of administering one that remains unproven.

The best way to address these issues is to remove the research from the human species and to work with some type of animal that will have a similar response to a human's. Of course, the problem there is that the physiology of other animals is too dissimilar to human physiology for the research to bear any meaningful conclusions.

Enter the development of humanized mice. Researchers can now create research animals that mimic human responses to treatment by infusing them with various human cells or other tissues.

These test subjects are ideal for cancer research because they address the limitations we noted earlier.

Bypassing FDA Approval
Humanized mice can be given treatments not approved for humans. While the advent of a new drug still ultimately requires extensive human testing before approval for widespread use, research with humanized mice can provide critical data that will not only satisfy regulators but will also permit researchers to discontinue unsuccessful options before working through that rigorous process.

Simpler Test Subject Identification
With a much shorter life span than a human's, mice reach sufficient size for experimentation in just weeks. As a result, testing can be conducted more quickly with more repetitions, which are key to establishing the reliability of treatments. And of course, animals used in scientific research can be subjected to whatever treatments are necessary to standardize their size and overall health to ensure consistency of results.

Humane Courses Of Care
Research animals are used for the advancement of human health. While there are standards that require such animals to be treated humanely, nothing can change the ultimate outcome that some of the animals will have to die. Some will have to be the control group, who will receive no treatment. Others will be given experimental treatments that may not work. Whatever the case, they can provide information that cannot be ethically generated in human subjects.

There is only so much that can be determined in pharmaceutical research inside a test tube. Scientists can assess various chemical reactions and functions, but the only way to make a meaningful determination of a drug's function is to administer it to living test subjects. And since it's not practical or ethical to conduct certain work on human subjects, we use test animals. The development of humanized mice as a tool to get substantive feedback without harming humans represents a real leap forward in all biological research.