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Rodent of the Week: A mouse with a human liver

February 26, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Rodent Animal studies are typically a key step in the scientific process, but some illnesses are especially challenging to study in this manner. For example, the liver diseases hepatitis B and hepatitis C can infect only humans and chimpanzees. Scientists also have had a hard time trying to study liver infections because human liver cells don't grow well in a lab culture.

That explains why researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla are particularly pleased with a new rodent resident in their labs -- a mouse with a human liver. The humanized mouse will make it possible to test new therapies for human liver diseases, such as hepatitis and malaria.

To create the model, researchers began with a special mouse with liver problems that could be treated with a particular drug. By taking away the drug, the researchers got human liver cells to take hold and populate the mouse liver. Tweaking the technique produced a mouse liver 95% composed of human liver cells. Studies showed the  mouse liver could be infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C and that the standard treatment for hepatitis C effectively treated the infection.

"This robust model system opens the door to utilize human [liver cells] for purposes that were previously impossible," Inder Verma, the senior author of the study, said in a news release. "This chimeric mouse can be used for drug testing and gene therapy purposes, and in the future, may also be used to study liver cancers."

The paper was published online this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Advanced Cell Technology Inc.