"Thinking Outside the Mouse: Organism-Environment Interaction and Human Immunology"

E. Desjardins, G. Barker and J. Madrenas (In Barker et al. eds., Entangled Life: Organism and Environment in the Biological and Social Sciences, Springer, 167-183), 2014

More Information at SpringerLink

Abstract: Several review articles in immunology indicate that while we have an increasing body of knowledge about the immunology of the mouse, this is translating very poorly into clinical outcomes for humans. This raises several issues for the scientific community, including some related to the apparent inadequacy of the mouse as a model for understanding and predicting human immunity. This paper has two purposes. First, we offer an explanation for why the typical approach to animal model research will most likely fail to produce satisfying clinical outcomes for human immunology. The standard approach to this problem focuses on the lack of similarity between the genes and molecular pathways of model and target systems. Our analysis focuses instead on differences in the ways in which model and target organisms interact with and adapt to their respective environments. We argue that in order to find a proper model organism for studying human immunity we need to think outside the mouse. Second, we advocate abandoning purely reductionist, gene-centered research, giving greater importance to observational studies of humans, and using new emerging technologies for information-processing for in vivo observation.

This paper was the result of one of the important early collaborations between philosophers and scientists that helped demonstrate the feasibility and value of the new kind of philosophical work being pursued at the Rotman Institute of Philosophy.