Experts: 'Animal-based studies will be essential for precision medicine'

The success of precision medicine — developing therapies based on an individual patient’s unique genetic profile and lifestyle — will depend on continued research into basic biology and disease mechanisms using animal models, experts from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) and other research institutions have declared.

Peter Robinson

In an editorial published in Science Translational Medicine, JAX Professor Peter Robinson, M.D., M.S., together with Calum A. McRae, M.D., of Harvard Medical School and K.C. Kent Lloyd, D.V.M., Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, specifically addressed the National Institutes of Health Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) Cohort Program, which will collect genomic and other data from more than a million people.

“Now is the time for creative approaches to maximize the long-term impact of the PMI,” the researchers write, “leveraging previous investments in organismal biology and genomics while setting precision medicine off on a successful trajectory from its inception. The impact of the PMI will be greatly accelerated if we systematically integrate model organisms from the outset, developing computational and experimental frameworks for the efficient validation at scale of potentially actionable findings from the PMI.”

Robinson, a computational biologist who develops algorithms and software to analyze genome and exome sequences and whose group develops the Human Phenotype Ontology, says that precision medicine aims to tailor medical treatments to the individual needs and characteristics presented by each patient by means of classifying individuals into subgroups according to disease susceptibility or to expected response to specific therapies. “The identification of relevant subgroups is still largely an unsolved problem,” he says, “and animal studies are likely to be of enormous benefit towards research in this area.”

He adds, “The Jackson Laboratory is in an ideal position to innovate in this area thanks to the mammalian genetics facilities in Bar Harbor and the genomic medicine facilities in Farmington; providing the kind of back-and-forth interaction between animal and human studies is what our editorial is proposing.”