Welcome to this week’s Research Roundup. These Friday posts aim to inform our readers about the many stories that relate to animal research each week. Do you have an animal research story we should include in next week’s Research Roundup? You can send it to us via our Facebook page or through the contact form on the website.
- New research finds that phenolic extract from maple syrup may boost antibiotic action. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise, with at least 2 million people becoming infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics each year. Producing antibiotics to fight these “superbugs” is proving to be extremely difficult with the first new antibiotic being discovered in thirty years occurring in 2016. Researchers, learning of the anti-cancer properties of maple syrup, decided to investigate its antimicrobial properties. By mixing the syrup’s phenolic compounds — which gives syrup its characteristic golden color with the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin, they found the same antimicrobial effect with less than 90 percent of the antibiotic. They then tested the extract in fruit flies and moth larvae and found a similar effect. Further experiments are now planned in mice and the researchers are hopeful that one day this extract will be turned into a widely available, plant-based medicine.
- Parental exposure to dim light at night may lead to a decreased immune response in offspring — Researchers at the Ohio State University exposed male and female adult hamsters to either a standard light/dark cycle or one with dim light at night for nine weeks. Offspring with parent(s) that experienced dim light exposure had an impaired immune response and decreased endocrine activity compared to offspring from standard light exposure parents. What is most interesting is that these epigenetic effects were transferred from the sperm and/or egg, and they were independent of light exposure in utero. The study suggests further research into light exposure at night from sources such as tablets, phones, and TVs should be done in humans.
- A new study using mice finds that paternal diet affects offspring cognitive ability. Increasing evidence suggests that offspring development is not only impacted my maternal factors, such as the mother’s diet, but also by factors that the father has been exposed to. Epigenetic modification of germline cells has been implicated as one major causal pathway for the transmission of such changes to the offspring. In the present study, one group of male mice were fed a diet containing nutrients required for methyl group metabolism — methionine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, betaine and zinc, while another group was fed a standard diet of lab chow. After six weeks on the respective diets, the male mice were mated with female mice, and the offspring tested on a series of learning and memory tasks. The offspring of the male mice fed with methyl donors performed less well in all learning and memory tests. Related changes were also observed with poor activity in the hippocampus (associated with learning and memory) and downregulation of a gene associated with neuroplasticity. The study has implications for countries such as the USA, where dietary supplementation is prevalent.
- A new function for the cerebellum has been found — the encoding of expectation of reward. The cerebellum accounts for approximately 10% of the brain volume, but contains more than 50% of its neurons. The cerebellum is often thought to function outside the realm of consciousness, being primarily involved in motor function and processing sensory input. The present study used genetically modified mice that expressed a green fluorescent protein (GFP) and photon microscopy. Scientists trained mice to push a lever to obtain a sugared reward. They found that one set of cells in the cerebellum fired when the mice pushed the lever (motor response), another set fired when the mice were waiting for the reward to arrive (cognitive response in regard to expected event) and third group fired when the reward was removed entirely (cognitive response in regard to unexpected event). This study challenges the current way of thinking about the role of the cerebellum and highlights how more research is needed to further understand how structures within the brain function in an interconnected way.
- Discovery of a gene related to congenital blindness in zebrafish may lead to a cure for similar disease in humans. One type of congenital blindness is termed Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LBA), and leads to deformed or absent rods and cones in the eyes of children — resulting in blindness. While researching blindness in zebrafish, scientist have manipulated genes associated with rods and cones, and discovered a mutant. These genetically mutated zebrafish also have degenerated cones in their eyes, similar to humans with LBA, but the rods are not affected. Future research investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms of rod and cone development using this new animal model may lead to a possible cure in humans.
- In the news, we sometimes hear stories about miracle drugs being created to save loved ones from debilitating diseases. Sometimes these drugs work, in part because of some previous validation in pre-clinical work using non-human animals. Other times, they result in devastating effects because they have not gone through appropriate safety trials. It is important that our readers and the public in general understand why clinical safety trials are important and have a proper understanding of the associated risks if they are not conducted.
- Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) has restarted animal experiments at its lab in Brussels. Work was temporarily suspended late last year after an undercover video was made by the animal rights group GAIA. The institution began both internal and external audits to assess its own processes, and they have taken various measures to further improve animal wellbeing, administration, and infrastructure – with a further €13.8m earmarked for a new animal facility in the future. The decision to restart means that 27 approved projects that were on hold can now begin.
- The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, provided free to girls in Scotland aged 12-13 years old has resulted in a 90% reduction in levels of the virus. HPV is believed to account for around 90% of cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccine owes much of its development and subsequent efficacy testing to animal models, including rabbits (Shope papillomavirus), cows (Bovine papillomavirus) and dogs (Canine oral papilloma virus). It is forecast that the HPV vaccine will lead to a 90% drop in cervical cancer cases in Scotland.
Jeremy Bailoo and Justin Varholick