FAIR mouse cancer models

PDX minimal information standards

FAIR mouse cancer models

31 Oct 2017 - 16:59

About our study

  • Hospitals, universities and pharmaceutical companies use different types of mouse models to understand cancer and explore treatments
  • Patient Derived Xenograft (PDX) models are so effective in mimicking a patient’s cancer that they are being used increasingly by cancer researchers
  • To make PDX models and their data useful to the wider research community, scientists at EMBL-EBI and other institutes propose a minimum-information standard

Cancer research will benefit from improved data sharing and reproducibility thanks to the first minimal information standard for Patient Derived Xenograft (PDX) models, which are heavily used in research. The new standard, announced today in Cancer Research, was led by researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), The Jackson Laboratory, the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine in consultation with over 30 other research organisations throughout the world.

To study cancer, drug response and advance personalised medicine, researchers explore specific biological processes using mouse models. Researchers create PDX models by implanting tumour fragments from patients with cancer into mice with suppressed immune function.

PDX models are an approach that comes closer to imitating a human response to drugs than previous models by implanting human tumours within a mouse host. Because of this, laboratories around the world are increasingly using PDX models.

Without a central repository for storing PDX models, this work is being carried out in isolation, which has an impact on the efficiency and speed of research. To make such a repository possible, standards are needed so that the data going into it is consistent. Uniform information about how PDX models are generated, what quality assurance measures are applied and how the models are used helps researchers access the models made by others, and reuse them in new drug safety and efficacy studies.

How do PDX models work?

The tumour that develops in the mouse reflects the patient’s own tumour properties. This allows the researcher to study that specific patient’s tumour growth and drug resistance, but in the mouse. There is growing evidence to show that the tumours in these mice respond – or don’t respond – to drugs in a manner similar to the patients. This a distinct advantage over traditional cell lines and tissue-culture models. It also creates pre-clinical studies opportunities. 

FAIR data

The FAIR data movement aims to make research data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable. It has gained momentum in the life sciences, where hundreds of thousands of scientists throughout the world are generating diverse datasets of all sizes. FAIR data articulates the central needs of data-driven research, as access to accurate, up-to-date information is required to formulate good hypotheses.

Why supply minimal information?

“Unless it follows a standard, a PDX model can only help one patient or one research facility,” explains Terry Meehan, Mouse Informatics Coordinator at EMBL-EBI and principal author. “For PDX models to make a real difference in the fight against cancer, and to reduce the number of animals used in research, we need to make existing models easy to find and access. This will accelerate the rate of scientific discovery and reduce unnecessary duplication.”

Video still: Minimum Information about a PDX Model, explained by Terry Meehan of EMBL-EBI. Video by SaSo media.

Why are PDX models important in cancer research? How can standards make them even more useful? Why should users get involved? Terry Meehan of EMBL-EBI explains.

“This is clearly an important standard for the community,” adds Nathalie Conte, PDX Finder Project Lead at EMBL-EBI and co-principal author. “We sent our minimal-information standard to research institutes around the globe for their input, and the response was fantastic. In the end, we all agreed on around 40 attributes, like the age, sex, patient diagnosis, treatment response and the way the model was created. This basic information will make PDX models and their data easier to find and reuse.”

Carol Bult, Scientific Director of the PDX Resource at The Jackson Laboratory noted, “Accelerating preclinical discoveries using PDX models hinges on the ability to meaningfully integrate data generated for PDX models by different groups. Making this integration possible was a driving force behind the development of the PDX minimal information data standards.”

An open catalogue

EMBL-EBI and The Jackson Laboratory are working towards the launch of an open catalogue for PDX models and associated data. These efforts, funded by the National Cancer Institute, will culminate in a shared resource hosted at EMBL-EBI.


Research reported in this Cancer Research paper was supported by the National Institutes of Health under grant number 5U24CA204781. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official political views of the National Institutes of Health.

Discover more

Prototype PDX Finder portal: The PDX Finder contains more than 800 PDX models from the The Jackson Laboratory and the EurOPDX Consortium. The portal is in active development, and recruiting new models. www.pdxfinder.org/

Source article

MEEHAN, T.F., et al. (2017). PDX-MI: Minimal Information for Patient-Derived Tumour Xenograft Models. Cancer Research Vol 21, pages 62-66. Published online 01/11; DOI:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-17-0582

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Vicky Hatch | Communications Officer


Oana Stroe | Senior Communications Officer


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