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New Research Mice Outfitted with Human Immune Systems

By Nancy Touchette

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For the first time, researchers have created mice that carry fully functional human immune systems. The advance could be an enormous boon to researchers looking for ways to test new vaccines. And it could help doctors treating bone marrow transplant patients to find better ways to reconstitute the immune system.

Markus G. Manz and his colleagues at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, in Bellinzona, Switzerland, report in Science that the mice produce all the cells and organs of the human immune system and generate an immune response when exposed to foreign pathogens.

In creating the new mice, the researchers isolated stem cells from human umbilical cord blood and transplanted them into the livers of newborn mice that had no immune system of their own.

“We transplanted the stem cells into the mice at a time when the immune system is undergoing a massive expansion,” says Manz. “The liver provides the ideal environment by giving the cells the signals they need to expand.”

When the mice were later vaccinated with a protein from the tetanus bacterium, the mice produced human antibodies. When the mice were infected with Epstein-Barr virus, which typically infects humans, they produced immune cells that killed the virus.

Manz’ motivation for creating the experimental mice was to better understand how to recreate an immune system for the bone marrow transplant patients he treats in the clinic. But the mice could also help researchers develop and test the safety and effectiveness of new vaccines.

“HIV is one of the most deadly and prominent human pathogens,” says Manz. “It would be great to have an animal model to study how the virus infects the human immune system and to test new vaccines before trying them out in humans.”

Traggiai, E. et al. Development of a human adaptive immune system in cord blood cell-transplanted mice. Science 304, 104-107 (April2, 2004).

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