The rat race continues for a cure to cancer, solution to Alzheimer’s, and ways to treat and prevent countless other ailments which, despite the advanced age we live in, have not been conquered by medical research. With only so much funding to go around, the millions of dollars required to bring new cures and treatments to market are being increasingly dispersed with caution. Competition for medical research funding has always been fierce, but it’s never been fiercer than it is today. Among the deciding factors for who gets what, the ability to successfully replicate or near replicate the human model down to the point-one percent of DNA which makes each person unique can be the deciding factor.
Despite the extreme similarities between the genetics of human beings, in addition to the similarities between humans and common test subject species such as mice and rats, the success of treatments depends greatly on the individual. In short, what works to cure cancer in traditional lab mice rarely cures cancer in humans, and even what works for one person may not work for another. Such is the vital importance that point-one percent difference in DNA plays.
Therefore, it’s easy to see why studies and trials incorporating the latest in humanized test subjects and additional methods of designing tailor-made treatments and cures are more attractive to the institutions holding the purse strings for funding. But what are these humanized and DNA-specific solutions? The most successful and therefore most promising avenues of humanized testing are as follows:
There’s no doubting the profound medical breakthroughs resulting from research performed on traditional lab mice and rats. However, the last several decades have revealed the limits of this fallback method of medical research. The number of viable treatments and cures to come from standard animal research has dwindled.
The solution has been a revolutionary process of engineering rodent DNA to closer replicate human beings. Additionally, the biolabs responsible for these genetically modified mice and rats also perform cellular humanization in the form of implanting human cells into specialized subjects. This essentially creates an environment where treatments and cures can be tested on a miniature human liver, for example, functioning with a living animal. Better yet, tissue from a specific human subject can be transplanted into the test subject to get an exact understanding of how they would react to various approaches to treatment.
For those out there who, despite the abounding medical advances owed to animal research, can’t bare the thought of furry creatures being confined to cages for testing, there is another branch of humanized medical research which operates with less emphasis on mice and rats as test subjects. Though still very early in development, the use of virtual test subjects located entirely within advanced software applications is undoubtedly on the horizon as a mainstream research solution.
Most of the virtual test subjects in existence today are in the form of open source computational models of biological processes of animals and humans alike. For many studies, such models are an acceptable substitute to “flesh and blood” samples. However, these virtual test subjects remain scattered and separated. There remains demand for a cohesive human body for testing in a virtual setting. This ideal computerized “clone” of an individual is being pursued by scientists in Europe and the UK, but progress has seemingly stalled in recent years.
As with many advances in science, it may come down to a couple of these forms of test subjects to take off as runaway medical success stories. This could conceivably be achieved with the use of CRISPR as a bridge; a virtual simulation of this biomedical resource could reenact real world genetic engineering in a digital setting to compare and contrast results.
Will there be a cure to cancer this century? It can seem like a question on par with inquiring after the location of the Fountain of Youth, but so was “will there be a cure for polio?” 100 years ago. If there is indeed to be a breakthrough in treatments and cures for the lingering medical maladies plaguing humanity, they will no doubt arise from humanized test subjects and/or virtual human modeling. This, in part, because studies utilizing these breakthroughs will be the ones to get the funding!