Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Model organisms? Broadening the biological lexicon to bolster translational research

Date:
March 10, 2011
Source:
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Summary:
So-called model organisms have long been at the core of biomedical research, allowing scientists to study the ins and outs of human disorders in non-human subjects. In the ideal, such models accurately recapitulate a human disorder so that, for example, the Parkinson's disease observed in a rat model would be virtually indistinguishable from that in a human patient. The reality, of course, is that rats aren't human, and few models actually faithfully reflect the phenotype of the disease in question. Thus, in the strictest sense of the word, many "models" aren't truly models at all. To developmental biologist, this is no small matter.

So-called model organisms have long been at the core of biomedical research, allowing scientists to study the ins and outs of human disorders in non-human subjects.

In the ideal, such models accurately recapitulate a human disorder so that, for example, the Parkinson's disease observed in a rat model would be virtually indistinguishable from that in a human patient. The reality, of course, is that rats aren't human, and few models actually faithfully reflect the phenotype of the disease in question. Thus, in the strictest sense of the word, many "models" aren't truly models at all. To developmental biologist and Whitehead Institute Member Hazel Sive, this is no small matter.

"The term model is used very loosely," says Sive. "That was a problem to me: Everything's a model!"

Sive sees the need to adopt a new term to expand the language of biological research to encompass systems that, although not technically models, can still offer tremendous utility in studying the etiology of human disorders. In this setting, she proposes the use of the word "tool."

Sive formally states her case in the March issue of Disease Models & Mechanisms. In an editorial entitled "'Model' or 'Tool'? New definitions for translational research," Sive calls for using 'tool' as a way to define a biological system that, though failing to recapitulate a phenotype, can, by virtue of its molecular makeup, provide important insights into a human disorder.

"This is not semantic -- there really is a difference," says Sive. "Mice have a cachet and are thought of as similar to humans, but obviously they're really quite different from humans. Frogs, flies, fish, and yeast, are serious systems for understanding fundamental biological questions, but they're seen as less valuable when it comes to studying human disease.

Although the publicity around Sive's proposal is new, she conceived of this construct nearly eight years ago for her own research with zebrafish. She uses zebrafish as a something of a test tube in which to study human mental health disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism. Knowing full well that zebrafish don't get autism, Sive nonetheless has employed the fish successfully as tools because she also knows that mental health risk genes in humans have homologs in zebrafish and that these genes are active during brain development. Because of this, Sive and her lab are able to conduct loss-of-function studies on these genes, examine what happens to the developing brain, and screen for chemicals that can alter the genes' activity. Such work could help identify potential therapeutic targets.

Having heard Sive discuss this 'tool-model' construct several years ago, Vivian Siegel, editor of Disease Models & Mechanisms, encouraged Sive to share it with the scientific community at large.

"She did exactly what I was hoping she would do." Siegel says of Sive's editorial. "We wanted to emphasize that you can find utility without the disease being recapitulated, as long as you know the limitations of the system."

Both Sive and Siegel, whose journal focuses on publishing basic research with translational impact, believe increased but judicious adoption of the term 'tool' should encourage researchers to consider new uses for their systems of choice, help educate grant reviewers evaluating related applications, and ultimately lead to greater understanding of human disorders.

"If you adhere strictly to the term 'model', you can be misled by your own system," says Siegel. "This approach has a lot of benefits. My hope is that by publishing this in Disease Models & Mechanisms, it reaches out to people interested in translational research, and lets others know that they needn't be so dismissive of certain aspects of looking at organisms. This offers a new way to help recognize the potential contributions of organisms that aren't necessarily traditional 'models'."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. The original article was written by Matt Fearer. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. H. Sive. 'Model' or 'tool'? New definitions for translational research. Disease Models & Mechanisms, 2011; 4 (2): 137 DOI: 10.1242/dmm.007666

Cite This Page:

Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. "Model organisms? Broadening the biological lexicon to bolster translational research." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110309125155.htm>.
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. (2011, March 10). Model organisms? Broadening the biological lexicon to bolster translational research. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110309125155.htm
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. "Model organisms? Broadening the biological lexicon to bolster translational research." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110309125155.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins