All cancers originate from an earlier, or precursor, state such as a benign or asymptomatic condition. To develop new approaches to cancer prevention, scientists have attempted to grow tumor cells from precursor states in animal models. A major deficiency in these studies, however, is that people study cancers of animals, not humans. Myeloma — a type of human cancer that forms in white blood cells — is an example of a cancer that is preceded by a condition called monoclonal gammopathy which has been impossible to study outside the human body.
In a new study, Yale professors Madhav Dhodapkar, Richard Flavell, and their co-authors describe new mouse models, wherein mice carry human versions of six genes that are essential for growth of human tumor cells in these mice. They found that when the humanized mice were injected with tumor and non-tumor cells from human patients, both cell types were able to grow in their respective environments which mimic the human body. Now that it is possible to grow these human tumors and their progenitors in mice it will be feasible to understand how myeloma develops and one day to prevent it.