Research Roundup: Zika virus used to treat brain cancer, improving bladder function after spinal cord injury 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.

  • Zika virus used to treat lethal brain cancer. Glioblastoma is a lethal brain cancer — for adults treated with current methods, the median survival time is about 14.6 months and two-year survival is 30%. In the present study, these researchers explored in mice and donated human brain tissue samples whether Zika virus (ZIKV) — a flavivirus that induces cell death and differentiation of neural precursor cells in the developing fetus — could be used as a means of killing cancer cells. They found that ZIKV preferentially infected and killed glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs) relative to differentiated tumor progeny or normal neuronal cells. Human trials are still some ways away, but this pioneering technique could someday be used in mainstream cancer research. This research was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

  • New gene editing tech promises to be even better than CRISPR. A fourth-generation DNA base editor may soon become mainstream, either complementing CRISPR or replacing it. David R. Liu, a researcher from Harvard University Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, states “Approximately two-thirds of known human genetic variants associated with disease are point mutations. The fourth-generation base editors to my knowledge are the most effective forms of these molecular machines that can directly correct certain types of point mutations.” While this technique is still in the extremely early stages, we expect that rigorous safety and efficacy testing, involving animal models such as mice; similar to that which has occurred and is still occurring with CRISPR Cas9. The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Dachshund image by Becky Smith

  • Pioneering gene therapy approved for leukemia in the USA. CAR T is a pioneering type of gene therapy for cancer. CAR T cells are equivalent to given patients a “living drug”. “The therapy requires drawing blood from patients and separating out the T cells. Next, using a disarmed virus, the T cells are genetically engineered to produce receptors on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs.” While this form of therapy has been in use in various small scale human trials, it is the first approval in the world for a type of CAR T therapy. Much of its success is due to pre-clinical safety and efficacy testing in animals models, such as mice — which we have covered previously. The “living drug”, known as Kymriah (or tisagenlecleucel), was developed by the SWISS based company Novartis, and is charging $475,000 for the life-saving treatment.
  • Malaria parasite in howler monkeys has infected humans in Brazil. There have been almost 1,000 causes of Malaria since 2006, leading scientists to try and discover the source of a disease which was once thought to be eradicated from the region. Analysis of patient DNA showed that the infections came from Plasmodium simium, a parasite that is found in howler monkeys. Zoonotic diseases, capable of transferring from animals to humans, are hard to treat, though the researchers do not believe it was transferred via a mosquito vector. One of the authors of the study noted: “However, its unique mode of transmission via monkeys and the fact that it occurs in areas of high forest coverage mean that zoonotic malaria poses a unique problem for malaria control efforts and may complicate the drive towards eventual elimination of the disease.” This research was published in The Lancet.

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