Mouse Mammary Tumor Biology: A Short History

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For over a century, mouse mammary tumor biology and the associated Mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) have served as the foundation for experimental cancer research, in general, and, in particular, experimental breast cancer research. Spontaneous mouse mammary tumors were the basis for studies of the natural history of neoplasia, oncogenic viruses, host responses, endocrinology, and neoplastic progression. However, lacking formal proof of a human mammary tumor virus, the preeminence of the mouse model faded in the 1980s. Since the late 1980s, genetically engineered mice (GEM) have proven extremely useful for studying breast cancer and have become the animal model for human breast cancer. Hundreds of mouse models of human breast cancer have been developed since the first demonstration, in 1984, that the mouse mammary gland could be molecularly targeted and used to test the oncogenicity of candidate human genes. Now, very few scientists can avoid using a mouse model to test the biology of their favorite gene. The GEM have attracted a new generation of molecular and cellular biologists eager to apply their skills to these surrogates of the human disease. Newcomers often enter the field without an appreciation of the origins of mouse mammary tumor biology and the basis for many of the prevailing concepts. Our purpose in writing this short history of mouse mammary tumor biology is to provide a historical perspective for the benefit of the newcomers. If Einstein was correct in that “we stand on the shoulders of giants,” the neophytes should meet their giants.

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