Search Magazine September 01, 2009

A Minute to Understanding: in vivo

What is in vivo research?

DNA, RNA and proteins—important molecules we know from high school biology class—are not static fragments unto themselves, but instead are dynamic components of a greater whole. They form a breathtakingly complicated mosaic of systems, networks and biological checks and balances.

Progress in biomedicine, then, requires more than studying individual components in test tubes or Petri dishes. That's where in vivo research comes into play. In vivo is a Latin term for "within the living." To see how a drug or therapy actually works, we need to see what it does as part of a whole organism.

But before we test something new in ourselves through clinical trials, we need to get a better handle on how it works and whether it might cause harmful side effects. The best surrogate model available is the mouse. In vivo research using mice is becoming more useful and applicable to human health all the time, especially as we learn more about human and mouse genetics and genomics.