While inbred mice have been a very powerful
model for analyzing the immune system, recent advances, both technological and
conceptual, have begun to make direct studies of the human immune system
possible. This is vitally important from a translational perspective, as mouse
models of disease have not been as productive as hoped for in producing
“actionable intelligence” with which to diagnose and treat patients.
Furthermore it has created an unintended barrier between the clinical world and
the research community. This barrier starts to dissolve when the research
community focuses on human beings. Another benefit is that human work is almost
unexplored territory for immunologists in our present time, where asking basic
questions often results in unexpected answers, as the compromises that were
necessary to make in laboratory mice-virtually eliminating genetic and
environmental heterogeneity-are unavoidable in human beings and have profound
effects on their immune responses. Thus we have already seen and I’m sure we
will continue to see a wealth of new insights into how the immune system works
from human research.