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A library of mutant mice to aid human disease research

15 August 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 321

European scientists aim to create a library of mouse embryonic stem cells (ES cells) that can be used to research human diseases. This library would make it easier and faster for researchers to obtain mouse stem cells with specific genes already 'knocked-out' so that they will not need to spend the time creating them for their own research.

The European Union has approved funding for the £9.3 million program, to be called the European Conditional Mouse Mutagenesis Programme (EUCOMM) and to be located in Heidelberg, Germany. It is to commence next year and to be completed by 2009. EUCOMM is forecasted to produce 20,000 'mutant' mouse stem cells, each with one gene 'knocked-out', and will complement the World Stem Cell Hub. This proposed South Korean program, led by Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University, will store human ES cells, and will focus on their therapeutic uses. The mutated mouse stem cells created at EUCOMM will be used to study function.

The first genetically engineered mouse was created in 1980. Since then, mice have been important in the study of how human diseases progress, because the mouse and the human genomes are so similar. Researchers can 'knock-out', or disrupt, a gene in the mouse to see the effect it has on its health and development. These effects can give clues as to what is happening in humans who have the disease.

The mutated mouse cells at EUCOMM will be created in two ways. The first way - 'gene trapping' - creates random mutations by inserting a piece of DNA into the gene. The second way is site-specific. 'Gene targeting' uses a piece of DNA to disrupt a gene in a specific place. Both should result in conditional mutations, ones that can be turned on or off depending on the type and developmental stage of the tissue.

A bank of this potential will save researchers time and money. 'I wouldn't as an individual laboratory head necessarily have access to the expertise to produce those knock-out stem cells myself, so it really is literally like going to a library and pulling out something useful', said Professor Elizabeth Fisher, a neuroscientist at University College London.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
EU project will test 20,000 mouse genes
New Scientist |  9 August 2005
Genetically engineered mice provide research progress
USA Today |  7 August 2005
Mouse bank 'key to disease fight'
BBC News Online |  9 August 2005
Mutant mice to aid health research
The Daily Mail |  9 August 2005
Scientists will create mutant mice to examine genetics and disease
The Independent |  10 August 2005
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