Scientists usually test drugs in mice, but now some cancer patients are doing the same, in hopes of curing their own diseases.
Patients are paying a private lab that breed mice that carry bits of their own tumors so that the treatments can be tried first on the customized rodents. Doctors will be able to see which drugs might work best on a specific person’s specific cancer.
In the past few years, hundreds of people have made “mouse avatars.”
Champions Oncology is one of several labs that breed these mice.
Patients send a tumor sample to Champions, which banks it and implants bits of it into mice kept in its Baltimore lab.
It costs $1,500 to bank the tumor sample plus $2,500 for each drug tested in groups of mice. Most patients try three to five drugs and spend $10,00 to $12,000.
Mouse testing is considered very experimental and therefore is not covered by insurance.
According to scientists, about 70% of the time, tests in the mice suggested something that turned out to help the patients. Additionally, if something had not worked in the mice it almost never worked in a patient.
However, there is no evidence that using mice is better than care based on medical guidelines of the gene tests that many patients get now to help pick drugs.
Mouse testing does have its drawbacks. It takes several months to get results, so patients tend to start therapy before their mouse results are in.
The tumor grafts are under the mouse skin, not a usual place that cancer occurs and therefore don’t reflect the human tumor’s environment. The mice also have highly impaired immune systems so they can tolerate the human tumors. This means that they don’t reflect how a person’s immune system would respond to a treatment and cannot be used to test immunotherapies.
Researchers believe that mice might be the best for cancers that have spread widely or that have returned after initial treatment to help doctors and patients what to try next.