Research Roundup: Cholesterol vaccine in mice, zebrafish & osteoporosis, new cytomegalovirus treatment, and more!

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.

  • Human trials of cholesterol-lowering vaccine are underway after success in mice. This vaccination is designed to stop fatty deposits from clogging arteries — reducing the effects of a form of cardiovascular diseases known as atherosclerosis. This vaccination targets a protein called PCSK9 that allows low density lipoprotein (LDL; “bad cholesterol”) to accumulate in the arteries. In mice, this treatment reduced LDL levels up to 50% over 12 months. This vaccination provides promise of a simpler way “to target high cholesterol and ultimately reduce people’s risk of heart disease.” An editorial on this research was published in the European Heart Journal.

Blocked arteries impede blood flow. Source: Getty.

  • Zebrafish, genetics and osteoporosis. The zebrafish’s ability to regenerate body parts, including scales and fins, has led to their involvement in the study of bone physiology and repair, as well as the identification of treatments for human bone diseases. Researchers at the University of Malta are working with zebrafish as a model to investigate osteoporosis, specifically the genetic factors that may contribute to the disease.  Dr Melissa Marie Formosa, a researcher involved in the project ‘Genetics of Osteoporosis’, writes, “The ultimate aim of genetic research remains that of elucidating the best treatment options based on the person’s genetic make-up and predicting disease outcome in susceptible individuals.”

Healthy bone, left, and osteoporosis, right. Source here.

  • An alternative explanation for loss of consciousness during anaesthesia was published this week in PLOS Computational Biology. Scientists typically speculate that when animals and humans are given anaesthesia, communication between brain areas is disrupted thus leading to loss of consciousness. Although such speculations have been previously tested and suggested to be true, the logic behind such speculation is questionable. Specifically, communication only seems to decrease when less information is available to exchange, thus loss of information should “reduce” rather than “disrupt” communication between brain areas. With these thoughts in mind, German neuroscientists measured brain activity in two ferrets over 3 trials of anaesthesia and recovery — increasing the amount of anaesthesia each time. Their measurements suggested that the ferrets’ brain activity was more subdued when anesthetized, but it didn’t seem communication was disrupted. Rather, the brain areas that send communication signals were less active, and the brain areas that receive communication signals were just as active as normal. This brings into question our current understanding of the mechanisms behind anaesthesia, and will be a starting point for future research in this area.

Lab-housed ferrets. Source: NC3Rs.

Image of mice courtesy of Understanding Animal Research

  • Drug used to treat anxiety found to be effective against the effects of cytomegalovirus (human herpes 5), which can cause major birth defects such as microcephaly, seizures, developmental disabilities, and deafness. Approximately 50% of all humans over the age of 40 harbour the cytomegalovirus and approximately four in 1000 babies suffer massive defects as a consequence. Mice treated during the first three weeks of life with valnoctamide — a drug used in the treatment of anxiety — were found to have reduced levels of the virus available for entry to the brain, to have restored timely acquisition of neurological milestones, and to display rescued motor and behavioral outcomes. Given the pervasiveness of this virus and its debilitating effects, and also that there is no vaccine against this virus, this work is extremely timely and promising. This study was published the Journal of Neuroscience.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) virus. Source: J. Cavallini.

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