, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 439-455
Date: 24 May 2012

From humanized mice to human disease: guiding extrapolation from model to target

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Abstract

Extrapolation from a well-understood base population to a less-understood target population can fail if the base and target populations are not sufficiently similar. Differences between laboratory mice and humans, for example, can hinder extrapolation in medical research. Mice that carry a partial or complete human physiological system, known as humanized mice, are supposed to make extrapolation more reliable by simulating a variety of human diseases. But what justifies our belief that these mice are similar enough to their human counterparts to simulate human disease? I argue that, unless three requirements are met in the process of humanizing mice, very little does. My requirements are not meant to provide necessary and sufficient conditions that guarantee a particular outcome. Instead, they serve as a heuristic for guiding scientific judgments involving extrapolation. In developing each requirement, I engage with philosophical issues concerning the nature of model-based science and the mechanistic approach (and its limits) to making generalizations in the life sciences.