By injecting human stem cells into laboratory mice and creating various human tissues, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a way to conduct “human” drug trials on animals. Conducting trials on the human cell tissue carried by the mice gives scientists an indication of whether to even proceed with human trials — and what to expect when they are undertaken. The patented findings are reported in the April 1, 2006 issue of Cancer Research.
Technion Professor Karl Skorecki, director of the Technion’s Rappaport Research Institute in the university’s Faculty of Medicine, came up with the idea in response to the failures often experienced in human clinical trials, despite successful tests of the same drugs in animals.
The researchers used mice with a compromised immune system – a standard experimental system for studying the growth of human tumors – but introduced a clever adaptation. Undifferentiated human embryonic stem cells were injected to create a teratoma – a growth made up of a mixture of human tissues, including cartilage, blood vessels, fat tissue or connective tissue. These teratomas provided the scientists with living human tissue wherein human cancer cells could grow.
This enabled the researchers to study cancer development, drug efficiency and side effects in a human tissue environment. And because there are many kinds of tissues contained within the teratomas, test results can show the effects of drugs on various kinds of growths, as well as on non-cancerous body tissue.
“At some point, all new drugs must be tested in a human system,” explains Dr. Maty Tzukerman, who carried out the project in the Technion’s Laboratory for Molecular Medicine. “Our research helps address concerns raised by some in the scientific community about whether structural similarities between animals and humans actually indicate similarity on the functional level.”
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel’s leading science and technology university. Home to the country’s winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel’s high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 17 offices around the country.