We are getting large amounts of medical data from human patients. Why do we still need to use mouse models to develop precise treatments for humans?

From digital medical records to the data from your personal health tracker, the quantity of medical data is indeed exploding. But all that information is useless unless you know what it means to your health. It’s through basic research with animal models that scientists can figure out precisely what all that data means.

For example, take the study of the human brain. With about 100 billion neurons, it’s often described as the most complex entity in the known universe. The Allen Brain Atlas is a 10-year project to understand the human brain’s neural code: how activity in the brain leads to perception, decision-making and action. The foundation for this massive research effort is collecting data on the mouse brain and its 75 million neurons, to serve as a kind of Rosetta Stone for understanding the human brain.

The new JAX Center for Biometric Analysis is providing the world’s largest and most diverse suite of imaging technologies that will allow researchers to obtain data on dozens of physiological systems in mice, from respiration and sleeping to brain activity and metabolism. And because the genetic profile of each mouse is known, researchers can link a given trait — say, high blood pressure — with the specific genes involved in that trait. Those genes then become candidate genes for further study and the development of precise new treatments.