Research Roundup: Vanilla and its use in reducing skin inflammation, first child born to uterus transplant 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.

  • Brainless organisms lead to breakthrough in neuroscience. Scientists at Columbia University, funded under the $100 million BRAIN initiative, are recording the live activity of all neurons in the Hydra vulgaris in hopes directly map neuronal activity to Hydra behavior. Head scientist Rafael Yuste has long researched the vast networks of neurons in mouse brains, however, he feels the mouse brains are currently limited in understanding how all the neurons work together to orchestrate behaviors. Studying mice with current technology is like watching a movie at the individual pixel level — you will never understand what’s going on. But because hydra are more simple organisms they are able to watch the whole “movie” all at once, and not just focus on individual pixels. They initially hope to understand how neuronal activity is related to eating, and perhaps then move back into mice.
  • First child of a uterus transplant born. Absolute uterine infertility (AUI) affects 15.4% of women of childbearing age – meaning that these women have a non functioning or nonexistent uterus. Now thanks to safety and efficacy pre-clinical research in animals such as mice, sheep and baboons, the first child born to a uterus transplant in the US has been born. Ten women were enrolled in this trial, and so far eight have completed the uterus transplant. Of these eight, three have failed, and additional woman is now pregnant. Doug Lawson, president of Baylor University Medical Center stated “This baby, born to a mother who could not otherwise have carried her own child, represents the ultimate success of this program, and we are honored to have been part of this milestone for her.”
  • Age of mother related to differences in genetically identical organisms. Genetically identical organisms that grow and develop in an almost identical environment are often individually different. Much research has explored this phenomena in bacteria, nematodes, rodents, and humans; but the causes of these individual differences are still largely unknown. Recent research published this week in the journal Nature, investigated how age of the mother contributes to size, speed of development, growth rate, starvation resistance, and fecundity in genetically identical C. elegans. This research demonstrated that maternal age might have a major impact on individual differences. Offspring of the mothers had impaired starvation resistance and fecundity. This research is an early step towards better understanding individual differences, and might soon lead to future research with more complex organisms.
  • Vanilla’s potential use in reducing skin inflammation. Psoriasis, is a common skin condition that speeds up the life cycle of skin cells, causing them to accumulate on the surface of the skin. It affects about 125 million people worldwide. The culprit of this condition are interleukins — and vanillin, the primary extract of the vanilla bean, is known to have anti-inflammatory effects. In this study, vanillin in various doses were administered in a mouse model of psoriatic skin inflammation. These researchers found that treatment with vanillin at the highest dose reduced the extra cell coverage by approximately 29%. This research was published in the journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
  • Canola oil does not provide the same beneficial effects as olive oil in protecting the brain. Researchers at Temple University worked with a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease to investigate whether canola oil, a vegetable oil that costs much less than olive oil, has protective effects on the brain. In previous studies, it was found that when mice were fed a diet enriched with olive oil the result was reduced levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, both associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and memory improvement. This was not found in the mice fed the canola oil. In fact, the mice treated with the canola oil also had significant deficits in their memory. Dr. Pratico, senior investigator on the study, indicates that further studies are needed to learn “whether the negative effects of canola oil are specific for Alzheimer’s disease and if the consumption of canola oil could also affect the onset and course of other neurodegenerative diseases.” This study was published in the online journal Scientific Reports.