Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.
Thank you very much;
you're only a step away from
downloading your reports.

Trending: The Mouse That Could Save Steve Jobs


Today's lab rat isn't a rat at all -- it's a "knockout mouse."

Yesterday, Steve Jobs announced he will be resigning as CEO of Apple (AAPL), with COO Tim Cook stepping in to replace the legendary tech visionary. Jobs has been named Chairman of the Board.

Jobs did not explain the details behind his departure, but he did take medical leave in January for what was believed to be a pancreatic islet cell neuroendocrine tumor.

According to the National Cancer Institute, neuroendocrine tumors are more easily treated and less aggressive than other pancreatic tumors, but advances in biotechnology could soon make it possible for gene therapy to block the production of certain proteins which are thought to promote their growth.

While the day-to-day tools that go into making such fantastical ideas a reality may be another day at the office to a researcher, to the average person, the science involved in developing cures seems more akin to science fiction.

Today's "lab rat" is a technological marvel -- and also happens to be, in most instances, what is called a "knockout mouse." While testing on mice is generally an early step in the search for a cure, it is a necessary one.

"Virtually no field of biomedicine has been untouched by one knockout strain or another in a significant way," Jeremy Berg, director of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, told a reporter.

So, what exactly is a knockout mouse? As described by the National Human Genome Research Institute:

A knockout mouse is a laboratory mouse in which researchers have inactivated, or 'knocked out,' an existing gene by replacing it or disrupting it with an artificial piece of DNA. The loss of gene activity often causes changes in a mouse's phenotype, which includes appearance, behavior and other observable physical and biochemical characteristics.

NHGRI points out that "there are mice prone to different cancers, diabetes, obesity, blindness, Lou Gehrig's disease, Huntington's disease, anxiety, aggressive behavior, alcoholism and even drug addiction. Immunodeficient mice can also be used as hosts to grow both normal and diseased human tissue, a boon for cancer and AIDS research."

Some mouse models are named after the gene that has been inactivated, like the DBA/2J model, used to investigate treatments for glaucoma, the second-leading cause of blindness in the United States.

The DBA/2J mouse

"Other mouse models are named, often with creative flair, according to their physical characteristics or behaviors," NHGRI notes. "For example, 'Methuselah' is a knockout mouse model noted for longevity, while 'Frantic' is a model useful for studying anxiety disorders."

The non-profit Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine, is the repository for more than 5,000 strains of genetically defined mice, including knockouts -- of which their JAX® line has become the gold standard in the field. These biological models have enabled researchers to explore treatments, cures, and preventative measures for major human diseases including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's.

"The Jackson Lab was originally created as a cancer research facility in the 1920s," the Jackson Lab's Brian Soper told me back in January. "Back then, the idea that genes could explain why certain people got cancer was sort of a novel idea. Over the years, people learned how to manipulate the mouse genome, which allowed them to create the same genetic defects that the human population has. For example, [a gene called] TRP53 is an important regulator of normal cell growth and division, so when you "knock out" that gene, you have uncontrolled growth, which is, essentially, what cancer is."

This affords scientists an opportunity to know, in practical terms, how -- and if -- a new molecule works not just in theory, but in practice.

"Typically, to learn if a drug is working, people look for certain endpoints in the mouse model that show they've alleviated the disease; in a cancer model, you look for tumor regression, in a diabetes model, you'd look for a lower blood glucose level," Soper explained.
< Previous
No positions in stocks mentioned.
The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.

Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Videos