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Transparent Mice Transform Cancer Drug Testing

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Everything inside the mouse – its nerves, tissues and organs – are made invisible by a chemical process

Scientists at the Helmholtz Munich research centre have achieved remarkable advancements in cancer drug testing using a transparent mouse, marking a significant breakthrough in the field. This innovative scanning method enables the detection of tumours that were previously too small to be identified. The research team, led by Professor Ali Ertürk, initially discovered a technique to render a deceased mouse transparent in 2018. Building upon this achievement, they have now incorporated chemical substances to highlight specific tissues, allowing scans to be conducted with unprecedented levels of detail, as reported by BBC News.

Mice are commonly used for testing cancer drugs prior to human trials. The newfound scanning method has the potential to revolutionise this process by providing significantly greater clarity compared to existing techniques. The team has successfully detected cancerous tumours in their early stages, a critical milestone in cancer research. Professor Ertürk explained, "MRI and PET scans would show you only big tumours. Ours show tumours at the single-cell level, something they absolutely can't do."

He further added, "Current drugs extend life by a few years, but eventually the cancer returns. This is because the development process never addressed the elimination of those tiny tumours that were never visible."

It is important to note that the new scanning method can only be applied to deceased mice, offering insights into cancer progression and treatment effectiveness. Professor Ertürk's technique involves rendering the mice transparent after inducing cancer and subsequently scanning them. By employing this method on a limited number of mice, researchers can assess the efficacy of drugs. The process of creating transparent mice involves eliminating fats and pigments from the mouse's body using a chemical procedure. The resulting transparent mice retain their internal organs and nerves, albeit nearly invisible, according to the report by BBC News.

Professor Ertürk's scanning technique builds upon his earlier development of transparent mice. By introducing specific antibodies, researchers can highlight particular tissues of interest for microscopic examination. This new scanning technique offers several advantages over current methods. Researchers can now study diseases within the context of the entire body, enhancing their understanding of the effects of different drugs and treatments.

Moreover, the 3D images obtained from the scans are stored online, creating a data library that reduces the need for additional live mice in experiments. Professor Ertürk believes that this technique has the potential to significantly reduce the use of laboratory animals. The study, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, offers promising prospects for improved cancer drug testing.


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