Research Roundup: Killing cancer cells, growing drugs in chicken eggs 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.

  • Growing drugs in chicken eggs may lower their cost. Interferon beta is a cell-signaling protein found in the body that acts against viruses, and is used to treat various illnesses ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer. The downside is that the interferon protein molecule is extremely expensive to manufacture, costing between $300-$1000 for one microgram. Most dosages start at several micrograms; to treat multiple sclerosis, for example, the starting dose is 30 micrograms. Researchers developed a novel way to mass produce interferon beta using chickens genetically modified using CRISPR technology. While investigators still need to show that the chicken-produced protein is structurally the same as the protein in current medications, this technique could reduce the price of cancer drugs by at least 90%. Additionally, a drug produced using modified chickens, called Kanuma, has already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat Lysosomal Acid Lipase Deficiency. Researchers are currently writing up their results for publication.
  • How Studying Frog Embryos Is Helping Advance Tissue Engineering By Leaps And Bounds. The embryos and tadpoles of Xenopus frogs are transparent allowing researchers to observe their internal anatomy during development. This, and other features like their tolerance to extensive manipulation, make them easy to work with in a research setting. Frogs and humans have many similarities genetically and physiologically. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working with frog embryos to understand the mechanical processes that guide the development of a complete living organism. They hope to use this to develop a tool that tissue engineers can use in regenerative medicine when building new tissue. Dr. Lance Davidson, professor at the University’s Swanson School of Engineering explains, “Many engineering fields have some kind of software or simulation tool that can take the guesswork out their designs before they actually start building. We are developing something similar for tissue engineers so they don’t have to rely on trial and error all the time.” They hope to apply this to support regenerative medicine therapies. Original source: Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering
  • Engineered Proteins lower body weight in obese mice, rats, and primates. Obesity is an increasingly common problem throughout the world. Surgeries such as gastric bypass or sleeve are quite effective, however the procedure is highly invasive and can lead to permanent negative side effects. Because of these negative side effects, scientists are currently exploring what different types of proteins our bodies secrete during metabolism. One promising protein that they identified was growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15). By treating obese mice with GDF15, scientists discovered that mice reduced how much food they were eating leading to a reduction in body weight, and had healthier metabolism. They then tested this treatment in obese rats and cynomolgus monkeys, and found the same results. Through more intensive tests they also discovered that treatment with GDF15 delays gastric emptying, changed food preferences, and activated areas of the gut-brain axis. This work is a great example of scientific discoveries following the path of mouse to rat to non-human primate and, hopefully one day soon, human. This research was published this week in Science Translational Medicine.
  • Zebrafish research guides new therapy possibilities for rare genetic disorder. Alagille Syndrome is a rare (1 in 100,000 births), potentially life-threatening genetic disorder that affects the heart, liver, and kidneys among other body systems. New research using zebrafish has helped to identify the tissues and genes which are important to the development of liver duct cells, and how the mutation associated with Alagille Syndrome causes development to go awry. The team, based out of Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, hopes that this discovery will aid in the development of regenerative therapies that will restore liver function, and possibly prevent the need for liver transplant in certain patients with this disorder. This research was published in Nature Communications.
Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  • New compound targets energy generation killing cancer cells. Sperm cells can generate energy and they can do so in harsh conditions because they strategically contain mitochondria in their “head”. Cancer cells, can also survive under harsh conditions, and they can adapt to a shortage of nutrients by reprogramming the energy generation system. Cancer cells, in contrast to normal cells, contain an enzyme called FerT — and unsurprisingly — the only other cell containing this enzyme is sperm. Researchers hypothesized that by disrupting the activity of FerT in cancer cells – they would starve cancer cells of energy and that they would die. To this end – they created a synthetic orally administered compound (E260), and found in mouse cancer model – that indeed, cancer cells are killed. They also check other normal cells and found them to be unaffected. This research was published in the journal Nature Communications.