Monthly Archives: August 2017

Found in Translation: Using a Personal Tragedy to Drive Innovative Research

Kathryn Henley is a doctoral candidate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She studies pain in animals, currently pigs, trying to understand the different and often subtle signs that animals may be in pain. In this post, she explains why her research is important – both to the development of good animal welfare and the development of better pain management in humans.

Ten years ago, my dad fell off a ladder while he was cleaning the gutters on our house. Although he only fell five feet, the position in which he fell broke vertebrae in his neck. He was taken via MedFlight to a specialty hospital, where a neurosurgeon diagnosed him with a C4/5 complete spinal cord injury. In simple terms, he was paralyzed from the chest down and could not move or feel anything below that level.

One unfortunate side effect of spinal cord injury is that while the ability to feel internal stimuli (e.g., needing to go to the bathroom) and external stimuli (e.g., someone touching your hand) is lost, the majority of people with spinal cord injury live with the feeling of pain. This pain is usually severe and can significantly affect their physical capabilities, mental and emotional health, and social activities.  For example, my dad’s pain made it extremely difficult for him to participate in rehabilitation. I would often bring him to physical therapy where he would sit with cold packs on his shoulders instead of performing exercises to help him regain function. The medications available to treat pain after an injury to the central nervous system are few. Most of the medications my dad tried failed to provide adequate relief, and the few that did were highly addictive or left him feeling “out of it.” He usually chose not to take his medication and to live with the pain rather than dealing with the side effects.

I find the lack of effective therapeutics for pain extremely frustrating. If the number of preclinical studies of pain is increasing, why haven’t they translated into pain relief for people like my dad? In general, pain is extremely hard to measure. There is no biomarker for pain and we can’t ask the animals how they are feeling or have them fill out a survey. However, we can make observations about their behavior. One way pain is assessed in animals is measuring withdrawal reflexes. This is the same reflex that humans experience when we touch a hot stove and immediately pull back our hand. However, this is a spinal reflex that occurs so quickly, it happens before the feeling of pain reaches your sensory cortex. This is problematic for the study of pain after spinal cord injury because axons in the spinal cord that carry pain signals to the cortex may be damaged. In other words, the injury may prevent pain information from reaching the brain even though the withdrawal reflexes remain intact. Therefore, we can’t assume that there is pain sensation below the level of a spinal cord injury even if there is a withdrawal reflex. Additionally, the most devastating part of living with pain is the physical, emotional, and mental effects of feeling the pain, not withdrawal responses. My research focuses on behaviors in animals that tell us when there is a “feeling” of pain that reaches the sensory cortex and then results in a behavioral reaction.

The first behavior I examine is the “pain face,” also known as a grimace. When humans are in pain, we grimace by narrowing our eyes, wrinkling our nose, and raising our upper lip. Animals also grimace by changing certain parts of their faces, including their eyes, ears, cheeks, and nose or snout. An assessment called the grimace scale was first developed in mice by Dr. Jeffrey Mogil at McGill University in Canada. The grimace scale has since been translated to rats, rabbits, cats, pigs, sheep, and horses. Researchers have found that mice with lesions to their insular cortex don’t grimace. Because the insular cortex is involved in the emotional component of pain in humans, this may indicate that grimacing reflects the emotional effect of pain.

Example of the Rat Grimace Scale. There are four action units in the rat’s face that change with pain: the eyes, ears, whiskers, and nose/cheek. Image source: K. Henley, unpublished.

I also use vocalizations to measure pain. Some animals vocalize to communicate when they are in pain because this ultimately benefits them and promotes the survival of their species. However, other animals like mice and rats may not vocalize when they feel pain because this would attract predators. Right now, I am characterizing the vocal repertoire of pigs. This means I record all the sounds that pigs make and classify them based on how they sound and look on a spectrogram. Sound analysis software enables me to analyze different components of their calls in detail, so I can determine even slight differences in duration and frequency. Knowing all their calls will allow me to better assess differences when using their vocalizations as an outcome measure. So far, I have characterized 16 different call types. Did you know that pigs bark?!

One important consideration when assessing pain is the confounding effect of other mental and emotional states, such as stress or anxiety. Animals may behave differently because of stress, regardless of whether they are in pain or not. As such, we take extreme care to ensure our animals feel safe and comfortable in their environment. We allow the animals to acclimate to their new space for three days after their arrival, without any interaction with study staff. On the following days, we slowly habituate them to our presence by offering treats and other positive reinforcement. We do not begin any study-related procedures until each animal can be calmly approached and touched by the investigators. Many prey animals will hide signs of pain from predators; therefore, it is vital that our animals do not feel threatened at any time. In fact, the pigs enjoy our presence very much (as it typically accompanies food) and I enjoy spending time getting to know each individual animal. They are also acclimated to any rooms, equipment, or procedures they will experience in the study to reduce any effects from stress or anxiety.

I love my research because it serves a dual purpose: to help both animals AND people like my dad live pain-free. The more I learn about animals and their behavior, the more information there is to guide animal welfare policies in both biomedical research and the production (farm) industry. This means that scientists, veterinarians, laboratory animal technicians, and farm personnel will have access to better tools to assess whether an animal is pain and if a pain medication is working. In addition, more accurate assessments of pain will lead to more valid results from preclinical studies. This means that people like my dad will have better options to help manage their pain and be able to achieve a better quality of life.

Kathryn Henley

Research Roundup: Possible cure for genetic infertility, zebrafish as a model organism for cancer 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.

  • Can a new technique for the creation of artificial sperm lead to a cure for genetic infertility? Sex is determined by the X and Y chromosomes. Females have two X chromosomes (XX) and males have one X and one Y (XY). About 1 in 500 males are born with an extra Y chromosome, Klinefelter’s syndrome (XXY), while roughly 1 in 1,000 males are born with double Y chromosomes, or Jacob’s syndrome (XYY) — two different forms of trisomy, which lead to infertility. Mimicking these syndromes in mice, in a jointly funded research project by the EU and Japan, these researchers took pieces of ear tissue, cultured them and then used fibroblasts from that culture to create stem cells. Curiously, in some of these stem cells, the extra sex chromosome was lost – yielding “normal” cells. They then induced these “normal” stem cells to differentiate into sperm cells and injected them into the testes of these infertile mice where the matured into healthy sperm cells — although some of these mice developed tumors. These healthy sperm cells were then collected and through assisted reproduction, created healthy fertile offspring. In a preliminary experiment, they also found that stem cells derived from men with Klinefelter’s syndrome also lost their extra sex chromosome. This research was published in the journal Science.

Image: Research schematic. Credit: Takayuki Hirota.

  • Adult neurogenesis found in the brain area that links memory to emotion. Neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons by cell division, and their incorporation to existing circuits) is a powerful mechanism of brain plasticity. Previous studies have indicated that neurogenesis only occurs in a few parts of the adult brain. This week, a team from the University of Queensland has reported that neurogenesis also occurs in the adult mouse amygdala, a structure located deep in the temporal lobe which is linked to the establishment of emotional memories. The amygdala plays a key role in controlling the way people react to certain stimuli or an emotional event, particularly if these are viewed as potentially threatening or dangerous. “Finding ways of stimulating the production of new brain cells in the amygdala could give us new avenues for treating disorders of fear processing, which include anxiety, PTSD and depression”, said author Dr. Dhanisha Jhaveri. This study was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
  • Plausibility of humanized mice questioned for stem cell transplant research. Humanized mice are engineered to have human immune systems, rather than a typical mouse immune system, and are frequently used across research. Some studies using humanized mice investigate the immune response to transplanting pancreatic islet cells for diabetes or skin grafts for burn victims. Recently, however, researchers at Stanford are suggesting that these mice are unsuitable for investigating questions related to stem cell transplantation and immune function/response. Their suggestion comes from several experiments where they transplanted genetically mismatched human stem cells in either humanized mice or actual humans. They found that humanized mice often accepted these transplants, while humans often rejected these transplants. Therefore, humanized mice might not be the best animal model for understanding relationships between stem cell transplantation and immune response. This is a great example of scientists working together to assure that animals’ lives are not wasted and the ability of science to refine its methodology over time. This study was published in Cell Reports.
knockout mice, animal research, animal rights

Researchers found that humanized mice often accepted stem cell transplants, while humans often rejected these transplants. (Mouse image from NIH)

  • Artificial womb used to successfully grow premature lamb for the second time. A collaborative of researchers from the Women and Infants Research Foundation, the University of Western Australia, and Tohoku University Hospital, Japan have successfully brought a preterm lamb to full term in an artificial womb. This study is similar to the results reported earlier this year by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Here, the lamb, analogous to a human fetus aged around 23 weeks old, was placed into a clear plastic bag filled with special amniotic fluid and an artificial placenta. Associate Professor Matt Kemp, led the development of this second artificial womb says,. “By providing an alternative means of gas exchange for the fetus, we hoped to spare the extremely preterm cardiopulmonary system from ventilation-derived injury, and save the lives of those babies whose lungs are too immature to breathe properly.” This advancement provides hope for families of babies who are born extremely premature in the possibility of increased survival rates.This study was published in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

  • Zebrafish larvae might be used to help doctors decide the best course of treatment for each cancer patient. A group of researchers from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown published this week, in the journal PNAS, preliminary data showing that colorectal cancer cells taken from patients can be injected in zebrafish larvae where they develop and show all the hallmarks of tumors. The researchers then treated these zebrafish avatars with different chemotherapy cocktails. In 4 out of 5 tested samples, the tumors grown in zebrafish responded similarly to how donor patients had responded to the chemotherapy they had gone through. This proof-of-concept study shows that there is promise in using zebrafish to predict, in just 2 to 3 days, how a patient will respond to each available treatment, and guide its chemotherapy regime accordingly. This study is now in a 2nd phase that includes hundreds of patients from the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown and the Amadora-Sintra Hospital.

Veteran speaks up for the importance of allowing canine research to continue at the VA Medical Center

On July 26, 2017, the House of Representatives passed an amendment (proposed by Rep. Brat) to a spending bill that would ban all medical research at the Department of Veterans Affairs that could cause pain to dogs. The spending bill itself has not yet passed, however if such a bill was to be passed with the amendment, and also approved by the Senate, it would do huge damage to important medical research conducted by the VA.

The following article by Sherman Gillums Jr was originally published in The Hill on August 8, 2017 under the title “Devaluing human life is no way to thank wounded veterans for their service“. It is reproduced here with permissions from both The Hill and the original author. Sherman Gillums Jr. is a retired U.S. Marine officer who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2002 while serving on active duty. His career with Paralyzed Veterans of America started in 2004 after he completed rehabilitation at the San Diego VA Spinal Cord Injury & Disease Center. He is an alum of University of San Diego and Harvard Business School.


For a veteran facing a lifetime of paralysis after suffering a spinal cord injury, hope is often the last thing to die. Yet, the recently introduced House bill, H.R. 3197, threatens to crush what little hope to which I, and the approximately 60,000 veterans living with spinal cord injury, cling. The act proposes to reduce investment in medical research, and the reason is as simple as it is controversial: animal research.

Introduced by Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), the Act follows reports of experimentation on dogs at the McGuire VA Medical Center in the congressman’s home state. Purportedly disturbing reports revealed that animals were being given amphetamines and suffering heart attacks, among other research-based details that aren’t easily digestible by those outside of the scientific community. The mainstream gut reaction that followed these revelations was easy to predict. When contemplated in a vacuum, the thought of animals experiencing induced pain would bother any reasonable person. However, I do not enjoy the luxury of contemplating these thoughts in a vacuum.

My thoughts immediately shift to the 23-year old soldier I met on a spinal cord injury unit in San Diego. He had a freshly severed spinal cord, fixators that held the bones in his legs together, and chronic pain that often kept him awake all night, despite medication. He also had a two-year old daughter, Marianna, who knew nothing about an explosive device, or how the one that hit her father would change her life forever. Then the two thoughts clashed and bred possibilities— hope —that sprang from what research might offer to him and his daughter. A hope that may now be dying for him, me and those 60,000 other veterans who could benefit from that research.

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“VA’s canine research that spurred the development of the cardiac pacemaker and artificial pancreas the Food and Drug Administration approved just last year, which serves to benefit both veterans and those who have never worn the uniform” [This image was not part of the original article]

When House members voted on July 26, 2017 to ban all VA medical research that causes pain to animals, specifically targeting VA’s canine research program, it was the first step toward a complete devaluation of the lives of catastrophically injured veterans. Brat declared, “From what I read, the type of work that [VA researchers] were doing was on the level of torture.”

I understand how reading a report like that would spur intense emotion and abstract horror. But if the congressman had put down the report and accompanied me to a VA hospital, he would have discovered that the price of military service is not abstract. He would have seen firsthand what it’s like to care for a paralyzed veteran with a failing heart on a VA spinal cord injury unit; or another on the polytrauma unit who needs a new pancreas, among other missing body parts that need to be replaced. After that reality check, I’d have asked the congressman, to consider these facts: It was VA’s canine research that spurred the development of the cardiac pacemaker and artificial pancreas the Food and Drug Administration approved just last year, which serves to benefit both veterans and those who have never worn the uniform. Non-VA canine research has also led to the discovery of insulin, new tests and treatments for various types of cancer and has played an important role in ushering in advancements in heart surgery procedures. While that reality may be inconvenient, it’s like freedom and democracy; it all comes at a price. I’d rather that price involve as little human suffering as possible. It’s apparent, however, not everyone agrees.

I would like to leave the legislative debate to the congressman and his colleagues, but it’s the ideology behind this bill that troubles me.  Those participating in the debate over the VA’s animal research program appear to fall into two camps: those who believe we should do everything we can to improve the lives of seriously injured veterans, and those who refuse to stare the ugly consequences of war in the face. It is not that simple though. The U.S. military faces the ugliness for its citizens, which includes our public servants.  Now that those citizens are faced with the aftermath, some are having second thoughts.

The VA has a responsibility to consistently find new and better ways of treat America’s heroes. Animal research helps the department do that. The program has helped save and improve countless lives, and it will continue to do so—unless ideology, and in some cases extremism on the issue of animal rights, succeed in forcing the public’s attention away from VA waiting rooms, inpatient wards, and rehabilitation gyms across the country. This is where the price of wars across several eras can be seen almost daily, as well as where medicine and science find their ripest opportunities.

Medical and scientific experts in America, as well as across the globe, agree animal research is essential. That’s because only animal research will provide the answers needed to develop revolutionary new treatments. Whether we like it or not, canine research is especially vital to potential medical breakthroughs because of unique traits shared by humans and dogs. In fact, CNN recently highlighted in a February 2017 story how canine research is leading to better results than traditional cancer research efforts.

Despite the hyperbole used by legislators to invoke disturbing images, VA is conducting research that is vital to seriously disabled veterans.  That is what cannot be forgotten or eclipsed by words hyperlinked to extreme ideologies. Canine studies address a host of medical problems afflicting them, and it advances treatments that heal them, or at the very least, mitigate their suffering and give them a better quality of life. I’ve seen it for myself, as Paralyzed Veterans of America has collaborative partnerships with Yale University and New Haven VA Medical Center to further the treatment advances that make veterans’ sacrifices endurable.

The research conducted at these facilities includes exploring cures and treatments for fatal lung infections affecting those with spinal cord injuries, dysfunction in brain circuits that control breathing, and whether service dogs reliably reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Orthopedics research conducted with animals is especially important to many VA patients, as it has been essential to the design and testing of new prosthetic devices for veterans who have lost limbs.

Much of the animal research VA is doing aims to benefit a small group of veterans with specialized needs — those who’ve sustained serious injuries in the line of duty. As a veteran who represents tens of thousands within this group, veterans who stand to benefit from VA’s animal research efforts, I am compelled to challenge those who are fighting to shut this vital program down. I ask them, instead, to take a step back and look at things from our perspective.  We are veterans who live with severe disability, many still in the prime of our lives. Our lives after service will never be the same as our lives before service, but advances in research will help us experience lives with less pain—and more hope.

It is my sincere hope there will come a time when we don’t need animals for research. Unfortunately, that time has not arrived, and because of the incredible complexity of human anatomy and our still-limited understanding of how it works, animal research will be needed for the foreseeable future. To those who remain unconvinced, I’ll close with two questions: What wouldn’t you do to find a cure for spinal cord injury, cancer, chronic lung infection, orthopedic deterioration, or other serious afflictions associated with military service? Then, what would you do if it was your son or daughter who served and returned home profoundly broken by battle, illness or disease?

For many veterans and their families, these questions are not philosophical. Because for them, hope is indeed the last thing to die. It is now up to Congress to decide whether that hope will be put completely out of its misery.

Sherman Gillums Jr

Science Magazine discusses the transparency surrounding animal research

Last month, Science published an article entitled “A trans-Atlantic transparency gap on animal experiments” (online version: To woo public, Europe opens up on animal experiments, but U.S. less transparent”). The article, by Meredith Wadman, noted some of the ways in which US and UK organizations are trying to educate the public about animal experiments including the Lab Animal Tour (UK) and Come See Our World (US) initiatives. However, it also noted differences between the countries – particularly in the university sector.

Using the Speaking of Research list of public animal research statements, we can see the trans-Atlantic differences among universities. Of the 65 US universities on the list (a fraction of those that conduct animal research across the whole country), only 8 (12%) get two or more ticks (out of four), and only 3 (5%) get three ticks or more. This compares badly to the UK where, of the 48 universities on the list (representing most universities conducting animal research in the country), 33 (69%) get two or more ticks and 23 (48%) get three or more ticks.

The article also brought to light the declines in support for animal research in both countries – though the UK may currently be reversing that trend – something some people attribute to launch and spread of the Concordat on Openness on Animals in Research – where organizations pledge to be more proactive about explaining their animal research. An example of this can be seen in October 2016 when the top ten UK research universities press released the number of animals they used in research that year. It should be noted that most large British universities now post their animal research numbers on their website.

Credits: J. You/Science; (Data) Ipsos MORI, Gallup

The decline in support for animal research in the US is reflected in other polling also. The Pew Research Center’s polling suggests that support for “animals in scientific research” has fallen from 52% (43% against) in 2009 to 47% support (50% against) in 2014. Many people have questioned whether it is time for a US Concordat to be launched – and certainly Speaking of Research would support any such efforts to make animal research more transparent.

The Science article briefly looked at different approaches to animal research advocacy, from the limited information provided by institutions like Harvard, Stanford and John Hopkins, compared to the wealth of information provided by organisations like the University of Wisconsin Madison.

While this article only touches the surface of the problem of transparency, and cannot fully be expected to appreciate the huge variation in practice within countries as well as between them, it is still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in how we communicate animal research.

Speaking of Research

Research Roundup: GM Pigs and hope for the organ crisis, tiny robots helping to cure bacterial infections 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.

  • Progress to end the organ donor crisis being made thanks to GM pigs. We have previously written about the use of genetically modified pigs and their valuable role in attenuating the organ crisis here. Since then, it was discovered that latent viruses in pig tissue, could infect humans – making organ transplants even more difficult. In the present study, researchers using CRISPR were able to delete 25 porcine endogenous retroviruses (Pervs), hidden in the pig’s genetic code, and using cloning technology, were able to place virus free genetic material into a pig’s egg and create embryos. While still an inefficient process, this proof of principle study led to birth of 37 healthy piglets and hope for an end to the organ crisis. This research was published in the journal Science.

  • Why does Queen Bee’s Royal Jelly heal wounds? For many centuries, honey-bees have been regarded as one of nature’s pharmaceutical companies because of the natural health benefits — antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulation — of honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly. Unfortunately, because bees are not highly regulated like pharmaceutical companies, their byproducts may contain pollen that causes a range allergic reactions in humans; for example, ragweed pollen. In efforts to take advantage of the healing properties of royal jelly, and remove the unknown side-effects, researchers from Italy and Slovakia set out to identify why royal jelly can heal wounds. They first isolated various molecules in the royal jelly and tested it on in vitro cell cultures for wound healing after mechanically scratching the cells. From these tests the scientists were able to identify defensin-1 as a possible wound-healing peptide. To determine the wound healing properties of defensin-1 they treated experimentally identical wounds on rats with either defensin-1, royal jelly, or cellulose-based gel (control). Through these experiments, they demonstrated that defensin-1 facilitated healing as much as the royal jelly in comparison to the control — which did little to facilitate healing. This research opens the possibility of a new healing agent from honey-bee byproducts that is free of the potential side-effects of allergens. This study was published in Scientific Reports.

  • Cardiac stem cells from young hearts could rejuvenate old hearts“Cardiac stem cells from young hearts could rejuvenate old hearts: Animal study reveals that cardiosphere-derived cells secrete tiny vesicles that could ‘turn back the clock’ for age-related heart conditions,” says a statement from Cedar Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Eduardo Marbán’s research team injected a specific type of stem cell from newborn research rats into aged rats. Their findings in the recipients showed improved heart function, longer heart cell telomeres (which usually shrink with age), increased exercise capacity and faster hair growth. More study is needed to fully understand the applications for treatment of human disease. Dr. Lilian Grigorian-Shamagian, co-primary investigator and the first author of the study, indicates that they want to determine whether this therapy will result in longer life spans and if the stem cells must come from a young donor to have the rejuvenating effects. This study was published in the European Heart Journal.
  • Tiny robots used to cure stomach bacterial infections in mice. Current treatment of bacterial infections of the stomach, such as ulcers, leads to nasty side effects because of the use of proton pump inhibitors.These inhibitors are needed to suppress the production of gastric acid in the stomach which otherwise would destroy antibiotics before they had an opportunity to work. In a proof of principle experiment these researchers used a vehicle with a spherical magnesium core to deliver antibiotics. By exploiting the chemical reaction of magnesium and gastric acid these researchers were able to successfully dose mice daily with antibiotics across 5 days. Because the by-product of magnesium interacting with gastric acid is the production of hydrogen bubbles – the vehicle naturally moves through the stomach. The vehicle itself is sensitive to surrounding acidity and only releases antibiotics once acidity is lowered. Moreover, the vehicle itself is made of biodegradable materials – causing no harmful effects. This research was published in Nature Communications.

Schematic displaying the loading of antibiotic unto magnesium based micro-motors.

  • A study in Siberian hamsters suggests that exposing parents to dim night light can lead to depressive-like behaviors in their offspring. There is an established link between light levels at night and depressive behaviour, but this study looks at the impact on the next generation. Now, researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center exposed Siberian hamsters to low level night lighting (five lux – less than would come off a mobile phone) nine weeks before mating. They found changes in the neuroendocrine system of the offspring higher levels of depressive-like behaviour when those animals became adults. This study was published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Exposure to dim light at night increases depressive-like behaviors in offspring

Photo credit: Phillip Roberts

Research Roundup: Combatting Zika virus, Understanding the brain, reprogramming skin cells, 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.

  • A new model to study the transmission of Zika virus. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have developed a mouse model to study the transmission of Zika from males to females, as well as from females to their fetuses. Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) devised a way to make the typically-difficult mouse model be a reliable Zika model. Mice naturally defend against Zika better than people because they have a stronger interferon response. The scientists discovered a way to suppress the interferon in these mice, called anti-interferon Rag (AIR) mice, which have prolonged virus infection in the testes — similar to Zika-infected men. AIR mice also exhibited vertical transmission of Zika from mother to fetus. Intriguingly, only some fetuses from each female were infected with Zika, suggesting that the placenta may be a crucial barrier in preventing the virus from reaching the fetus and thereby resulting in birth defects. The research was published in Scientific Reports and is freely available online.
  • Scientists at Ohio State University have used mice develop a new way to reprogram skin cells. This could represent a breakthrough in repairing injured or ageing tissue. The new technique, called tissue nanotransfection, is based on a tiny device that sits on the surface of the skin of a living body. An intense, focused electric field is applied, allowing it to deliver genes to the skin cells beneath it – turning them into different types of cells. The device was put on the skin of the mice with legs that had had their arteries cut, preventing blood flow through the limb. The team found that they were able to convert skin cells directly into vascular cells -with the effect extending deeper into the limb, in effect building a new network of blood vessels. “Seven days later we saw new vessels and 14 days later we saw [blood flow] through the whole leg,” said Dr. Chandan Sen, from the Ohio State University. Sen and colleagues say they are are hoping to develop the technique further, with plans to start clinical trials in humans next year. This research was published in Nature Nanotechnology.

  • Neuroscientists are trying to under how tangles of neurons produce complex behaviors. The brain is still largely unknown. Researchers hope to map out simple brains in hopes to see patterns that might be able to be applied to more complex brains.  Researchers at Howard Hughes Janelia Research Campus are studying the brains of fruit fly larvae. The brains of these animals are comprised of 15,000 neurons as compared to 86 billion in the human brain.  Researchers like Albert Cardona and Marta Zlatic‘s feel that a wiring diagram is an important step towards understanding how the central nervous system works.  The nematode’s (C. elegans) brain, at just 300 neurons, was mapped in the 1980’s but scientists question its applicability to larger brains so have sought the fruit fly because it exhibits more complex behaviors and thus more complex neural pathways and actions but there is still much unknown about simple brains. Animals being looked at include the gastric system of crabs, larval zebrafish and specific regions of the brain. Neuroscientists hope that mapping the brain will help to understand why some therapies work for one but not for others and how new therapies can be developed to treat many debilitating diseases.

  • Scientists destroy entire chromosome with CRISPR providing hope for future generations of individuals with aneuploidy, such as Down Syndrome –where an individual has an abnormal number of chromosomes. These researchers first, in vitro, used CRISPR-Cas 9 to induce numerous chromosomal breaks at the centromere on the long arm of the Y chromosome, effectively removing the chromosome from XY embryonic stem cells. Then, using male mice zygotes, in vivo, this team of researchers targeted 41 sites of the Y chromosome centromere, resulting in a 70% efficient removal of the Y chromosome. This research was published in the journal Molecular Therapy.
  • Gold particles increases the efficacy of drug treatments for cancer. Gold can be used as a catalyst in chemical reactions. Researchers from Edinburgh University, using zebrafish investigated whether gold would improve the efficacy of drugs, via catalysis, used to treat lung cancer. Here, gold nanoparticles were encased in a “chemical device”, and the activation of the structure as well as the subsequent release of therapeutics studied — which worked with good efficiency. The lead author, Dr. Unciti-Broceta states “We have discovered new properties of gold that were previously unknown and our findings suggest that the metal could be used to release drugs inside tumours very safely.” This research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry).

American Psychological Association reaffirms support for animal research

The American Psychological Association (APA) represents its membership of 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students working across the many subfields of psychology. The APA works to advance the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives. On August 2nd, 2017, the organization reaffirmed its support for the careful use of animals in medical research. Speaking of Research welcome this clear statement of principles. We reproduce that statement below. 


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APA Reaffirms Support for Research with Nonhuman Animals

The American Psychological Association has reaffirmed its long-standing support for ethically sound and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals and the scientists who conduct it, noting that the application of such research has “significantly improved the health and well-being of both human and nonhuman animals.”

“Historically, laboratory animal research has played a crucial role in the development of theory and research in virtually all sub-disciplines of psychology,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD, who is a neuropsychologist. “Knowledge gained through research with laboratory animals continues to provide answers to questions important to advancing the science of behavior and to improving the welfare of both humans and other animals.”

Understanding of such processes as learning, attention and cognition and disorders such as addictions, autism and depression has benefited from findings of nonhuman animal studies. Knowledge gained through research with nonhuman animals has also been critical to conservation efforts for various species, in various habitats across the world.

APA’s governing Council of Representatives passed a resolution on the subject Wednesday, reaffirming a resolution that was last adopted in 1990, and is reflected throughout the 125-year history of the organization. The resolution notes nonhuman animal research is foundational to scientific discoveries as is evidenced by the fact that most scientists support such research, and that such research is regulated by federal, state and local jurisdictions, as well as assessed for scientific merit by funding agencies and peer review. Additionally, the resolution asserts the responsibility of scientists themselves to ensure the humane care and treatment of laboratory animals.

The resolution recognizes that the public might not fully appreciate “the nature of nonhuman animal research and its benefits to society, due to overabundance of misinformation and simultaneous dearth of accurate information” in the public domain.

“Nonhuman animal research has proven invaluable for exploring the complexity of diverse behaviors across genetic, molecular, cellular/neuronal, circuit, network, cognitive and behavior levels,” the resolution states. “The assembly and application of findings from nonhuman animal research has contributed to numerous clinical applications that have significantly improved the health and well-being of both human and nonhuman animals.”

Studies that used animals have played a role in the prevention or treatment of conditions as diverse as tuberculosis, diabetes, polio, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy and high blood pressure — to name just a few benefits of this research. Although such research continues to provide important scientific data and insights, understanding and support of such research has declined in recent years among the American public. Moreover, some activist groups have spread misinformation about this research, have harassed psychologists and other scientists and have destroyed laboratories. APA’s reaffirmation of its position on nonhuman animal research is one step toward strengthening the public’s knowledge and support of this research and the scientists who conduct it, according to Puente.

“APA deplores the harassment of scientists, students and laboratory assistants who have been involved in animal research,” Puente said. “We join with other scholarly organizations in continuing to support ethically sound and scientifically valid research with nonhuman animals.”

APA’s Committee on Animal Research and Ethics, which was founded in 1925, developed and regularly updates its “Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Nonhuman Animals in Research.” These guidelines assist researchers in fulfilling their obligation for the humane care and treatment of nonhuman animals in research that is in the public’s interest.