With the exception of clinical trials— studies of drugs or other tools that have undergone extensive preliminary testing— scientists do not experiment on humans. Instead, they rely on plant, animal, fungal, and bacterial “models” for their studies. Perhaps none has proven as indispensable to studying and developing treatments for cancer as the mouse, the most widely used research mammal.
Mice are genetically more similar to humans than any mammal other than primates: 95 percent of their DNA coding sequence is the same, and they share nearly all the same organs. They are unusually easy to breed for specific traits, allowing researchers to create strains ideal for studying particular cancers. And because mice develop quickly, scientists can track tumor growth in a short time.
Research leading to 21 Nobel Prizes has included mice, and in recent years, mouse studies have helped investigate a breast cancer vaccine, study the origins of testicular cancer, and develop a drug that appears to stop the growth of lung cancer.
Mice tend to adapt well to laboratory life, and institutions have a vested interest in the health and well-being of their charges, which can cost thousands of dollars each. Researchers using laboratory animals must provide funders with detailed descriptions of their research and comply with federal regulations on the animals’ care.
Fox Chase’s laboratory animal program has voluntarily earned accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.