Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 439–455 | Cite as

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

  • Monika PiotrowskaEmail author


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.


Extrapolation Genetic engineering Humanized mice Mechanism Models 



Special thanks to Steve Downes, Matt Mosdell, Daniel Steel, Jim Tabery, and several anonymous reviewers for their careful reading and constructive criticism. In addition, I would like to thank Matt Haber, Anya Plutynski, Emanuele Serrelli, Mike Wilson, Rasmus Winther, members of the audience at ISHPSSB 2011 in Salt Lake City, and the editor of this journal for valuable comments. I gratefully acknowledge financial support from the American Association of University Women, Marriner S. Eccles, and Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Fellowships.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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