Researchers develop mice with human immune system

Researchers developed a strain of mice with a human-like immune system that can be used to study malaria infections, according to a study recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The MIT research team found the mice could be infected with the most common human form of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. The study identified a key host defense mechanism and could lead to many more useful malaria discoveries.

"Human malaria studies have been hampered by a lack of animal models," Jianzhu Chen, one of the senior authors of the study, said. "This paves the way to start dissecting how the host human immune system interacts with the pathogen."

Because malaria-causing parasites are adapted to the hosts they infect, studying the disease in mice does not usually reveal information that could lead to drugs effective against the human disease. The humanized mouse program is meant to develop strains of mice with the human cells needed for a comprehensive immune response.

Using the humanized mice, the MIT researchers found that human natural killer cells were critical to controlling malaria infection early on. The team also identified a cell adhesion protein called LFA-1 that aids NK cells in binding to red blood cells.

Chen and the other researchers look to use the humanized mice to study experimental malaria vaccines or drugs and the malaria infection process in individuals with sickle cell anemia.