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Peoples' immune systems can now be duplicated in mice


March 16, 2012

Scientists have developed a method of duplicating an individual person's unique immune system, within a mouse (Photo via Shutterstock)

Scientists have developed a method of duplicating an individual person's unique immune system, within a mouse (Photo via Shutterstock)

Because everyone’s immune system is different, it’s impossible to predict with absolute certainty how any given person will react to a specific medication. In the not-too-distant future, however, at-risk patients may get their own custom-altered mouse, with an immune system that’s a copy of their own. Medications could be tried out on the mouse first, and if it showed no adverse reactions, then the person could receive them. If the person had an autoimmune disease, the mouse could also provide valuable insight into its treatment. A team led by Columbia University Medical Center’s Dr. Megan Sykes has recently developed a method of creating just such a “personalized immune mouse.”

The process begins by transplanting bone marrow stem cells from the human subject, along with a one-cubic-millimeter chunk of their thymus tissue, into a mouse with a disabled immune system. The thymus is an organ in the immune system, and the sample of it is implanted in the mouse’s kidney capsule, which is a thin membrane surrounding the kidney.

It incubates there for six to eight weeks, within which time it becomes seeded with the stem cells, which have been circulating in the mouse’s bloodstream. This in turn causes it to create a number of types of human immune cells, resulting in “a robust and diverse human immune system” matching that of the donor. Previous efforts have reportedly not been successful in creating a complete system, or have been hampered by the mice rejecting the human material.

Besides being used to test responses to medications, the personalized immune mice might also play a key role in developing individualized immunotherapies. These would allow patients to more successfully fight infections or cancer, or to accept transplanted tissue.

Additionally, Dr. Sykes plans on using the mice for research into type 1 diabetes, to determine how diabetic patients’ immune systems are different from those of non-diabetics, before the disease develops.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Why not use our growing understanding of the human body, the inter-connections with genetics and metabolism and environmental factors and diet and create a customized app to do the same thing? Why inflict someone's problems on a mouse when a computer program could guide someone about the best diet, best environment, best sleep cycles, best attitude, best breathing techniques, and even best drugs to help someone reach for or stay in top health?

Carlos Grados


Because computer programs that do that cost more - and aren't nearly as reliable or accurate as this would be... easy to answer that one!

Paul Hutchinson

OMG. Where do you start whith how wrong this is. Firstly and easiest it is not a complete replication of a human immune system. It produces some parts of the human immune system inside and mixed with a living mouse genome, how this interacts with and affects those parts that were human would not be none.

Any results of testing in this system would be of novel use at best and to relate or rely on them to treat the donor I think would be a terrible risk.

Aside from those obvious problems is there absolutely no chance of creating a human form of a virus that would usually live in a mouse but is lethal to humans by doing this??? I for one think that there is no reall benefit from this kind of franken science and would encourage the development of computer assisted systems for testing which could at least give you results based on a human system and not a human mouse hybrid.


Yay for mice! Our little furry friends.

Richard Cook
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