Geneticists engineer a new mouse: Laboratory animals give research scientists 'tailor-made models of human disease'

UNDERSTANDING one of the principal causes of kidney disease in children will be easier following the creation of a new strain of laboratory mouse by genetic engineering, scientists said yesterday.

The animal is the latest in a series of 'knock-out' mice that have had non-functional genes inserted into them when embryos, to mimic the symptoms of human genetic disorders ranging from cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anaemia to cancer.

Researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have beaten British scientists in the race to knock out the gene shown to be linked with Wilms' tumour, the primary cause of kidney cancer in children and responsible for about 6 per cent of all childhood cancers.

The gene in question is known as a tumour suppressor. Tumours occur when the gene is damaged by mutation, so preventing it from functioning normally. When children inherit a non-functional copy of the gene from one parent and a functional copy from the other, they are at risk of developing kidney cancer.

'Cancer develops in these children when some event disrupts the one normal copy of the gene in a single kidney cell; as a result, the cell grows out of control, producing a tumour,' the Whitehead Institute said.

The new strain of mouse, described in the current issue of the journal Cell, carries a functional and a non-functional copy of the gene, just like the children at risk.

Such mice are normal, but when they mate with each other some of their offspring inherit two non-functional copies of the Wilms' tumour gene and die at the embryo stage because they fail to develop kidneys.

According to Rudolf Jaenisch, head of the Whitehead research team, this proved that the gene plays a key role in the early development of kidneys. 'They will allow us to begin sorting out at the molecular level the complex interactions that must occur to produce normal kidneys.'

There are now several hundred different strains of knock-out mice, according to Professor Nick Hastie, a geneticist at the Medical Research Council's Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh. They are proving invaluable in studying human diseases where there is no equivalent condition in the animal world, he said.

Mice that have had a gene for an important brain enzyme knocked out, for instance, cannot remember how to escape from a maze, helping scientists to understand the physical basis of learning. Other knock-out mice lacking a gene for a brain protein are helping researchers to understand the genetics of 'mad cow' disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Kenneth Paigen, director of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine - which has done much of the work in identifying natural strains of laboratory mouse - says in the current issue of the journal Nature that knock-out mice represent a scientific revolution: 'We suddenly have the ability to create tailor-made mammalian models of human disease which offers the opportunity to study complex physiological phenomena, such as the nervous and immune systems, Aids and cancer, as never before.'

Not everyone, however, is so happy about 'playing God' by creating artificial strains of laboratory animals. Animal rights activists in Europe have opposed attempts to patent a strain of mouse that has been genetically programmed to die of cancer after a few months, arguing that such research is unethical because it increases the suffering of animals.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game