Cancer researchers have developed a conditional mouse model for malignant mesothelioma which will aid future researchers in studying the progression and treatment of this deadly disease. While chemotherapy provides some improvement in overall survival rates, there is no cure for malignant mesothelioma and patients typically die within one year of diagnosis. Researchers are hopeful that the new model animal may lead to the development of functional therapies to treat malignant mesothelioma.
Study leader Dr. Anton Berns of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam said “There is an urgent need for experimental models of MM that can be used to not only study the onset and progression of the disease, but also to serve as a model to select new combination therapies and targeted agents.” Berns’ team investigated whether mutations in the Nf2, p53 and Rb pathways within the thoracic mesothelium would lead to malignant mesothelioma in mice. They found that most mice with conditional Nf2;Ink4a/Arf and Nf2;p53 mutations developed malignant mesothelioma within a short time. Mice with the mutation in the Nf2;Ink4a/Arf pathway had significantly more invasive cancers, leading researchers to speculate that the loss of the Ink4a gene may be a major contributor to the lethality of mesothelioma in humans.
Medical researchers use mice extensively for research, because the mouse is a close genetic and taxonomic relative of humans, and has the same basic set of body systems that humans do. In addition, mice are inexpensive to keep and have a very rapid reproductive cycle, allowing the production of a new generation every nine weeks. Although simpler organisms such as yeasts and flies are excellent models for studying developmental processes, mice are better for more sophisticated analysis. A “mouse model” was traditionally a particular strain of mice bred to produce offspring with a particular set of desired traits. The advent of genetic engineering has allowed researchers to produce custom-made mice known as “transgenic mice”, in which genes are either added or subtracted to the mouse to permit the study of that genes’ effect on particular diseases. “Knock-out” mice are those which have had particular genes removed or modified (as in the conditional mouse model for mesothelioma discussed here); “knock-in” mice are those where genes have been added.