Research Roundup: Human brain organoids, universal flu vaccine 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.

  • Nighttime injuries heal slower than daytime ones. When animals are wounded, their body recruits different healing cells to help heal the wound. According to research this week, one of those healing cells — fibroblasts — travels at different speeds depending on the time of day. When a wound occurs, fibroblasts travel up through the skin to the surface and begin synthesizing and building structural support for the new skin. While traveling up through the layers of skin, fibroblasts come into contact with actin, which changes its structure throughout the day; long filaments during the day and globular at night. When actin is in a globular state, it is more difficult for the fibroblasts to reach the wound compared to when actin is in the long filament state. This finding was first discovered in skin-cells growing in a petri dish and then in the skin of mice. Medical records of humans recovering from burns show the same daytime-nighttime effect, but they have yet to study whether it is related to fibroblasts and actin. This research was published in Science Translational Medicine.
  • Ethical concerns on implanting human brain organoids in rodents. Almost 4 years ago scientists discovered how to turn human stem cells into human brain tissue (organoids). Since this discovery, scientists have been growing lentil-sized human brain tissue in test-tubes — until now. This weekend two research groups will report implanting human brain organoids into the brains of mice and rats, at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in Washington D.C. The research reports that same of the implanted brain organoids became vascularized over the course of 2 months and the organoid began sending out axons to different parts of the host mouse brain. Bioethicists do not believe these procedures will make human-brained mice, but it may make them “human-ish.” This research is still in early stages and has not yet undergone rigorous peer-review, but the ethical concerns remain. Scientists may soon call for a commission to determine whether limits should be placed on how large the human brain organoids can grow, for example. Nonetheless, this research is exciting and may lead to many new animal models from Alzheimer’s to Zika. This research was published in an abstract for this weekend’s meeting.
  • Mother’s BPA exposure may influence offspring health. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an endocrine system disrupting chemical. Previous animal studies have shown that exposure to BPA is associated with cancer, behavior disorders, and reproductive issues. A new study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University tested the effects of BPA on the offspring of female rabbits exposed during gestation. Rabbits were used in the study because they have a longer gestational period compared to rats and mice. The researchers found that BPA given to a pregnant female caused inflammation in the colon and liver of its offspring. Gut bacteria in the offspring exposed to BPA were also much less diversified, and offspring also had reduced beneficial bacterial metabolites and increased gut permeability (“leaky gut”). These three markers are hallmarks for inflammation induced chronic disease.  Using human colon cells, the researchers were able to reduce the gut permeability phenomenon by adding in the bacterial metabolites to BPA-treated cells. The researchers hypothesize that giving back bacterial metabolites lost through chemical exposure may reduce the risk of chronic diseases later in life. This research was published in mSystems.
  • Near-universal flu vaccine created. Influenza is a ubiquitous disease, with approximately 3-5 million cases yearly, and 250,000-500,000 deaths. Every year, a seasonal flu vaccine is created, that protects against either three or four of the more common predicted strains of influenza virus for the upcoming flu season. Sometimes, these predictions match and sometime they don’t. Now, scientists have created a new vaccine which could provide lifelong inoculation for most strains of the influenza virus. They accomplished this by identifying key set of ancestral genes in the older versions of different influenza strains and engineering a new vaccine. Mice inoculated by this new vaccine survived lethal doses of 7 out of 9 tested strains of the influenza virus. While there is still a way to go before this makes it to clinical trials – such as evaluation of lifelong immunity – this is a promising step. This research was published in the journal Scientific Reports
  • Breakthrough could lead to more effective treatments for diseases of the gut. The process where cells are broken down and elements recycled is called autophagy. This process helps to keep our bodies healthy, but when dysfunctional can cause tissue inflammation – particularly in the gut. In a new study, using fruit flies, researchers have identified that a protein called Kenny, accumulates and cause the inflammation when the process of authophay is dysfunctional. Understanding how autophagy process goes dysfunctional may lend insight into the development of effective treatments of diseases to the gut. This research was published in the journal Nature Communications.