Research roundup: Promising gene therapy for spinal cord injury, a new sex changed mouse model 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.

  • Reversing brain damage from dementia. A new study has successfully reversed cognitive impairments in mice with dementia using a 20-year-old asthma drug. Dementia is known to severely impair brain functioning and is associated with the buildup of amyloid plaques and expression of the inflammatory molecule leukotriene. Utilizing a mouse models of brain degeneration — similar to a 60-year-old human with early-onset dementia — scientists found that the asthma drug, zileuton, decreased the expression of leukotriene. The treated mice had significantly better memory and 90% fewer leukotrienes than their counterparts. This research is still in early stages, but because the drug is already being used on humans it may soon reach clinical trials. Published in the journal Molecular Biology.
  • New implant brings medication straight to the heart. American and Irish scientists have developed the Therepi device to deliver stem-cell medication directly to hearts damaged and scarred by heart attacks. The small implant is sutured to the scar tissue of the heart and a tube is routed to a port in the patient’s skin. Multiple doses of medication can then be pumped through the port and straight to the heart. Preclinical trials on rats provided a proof-of-concept with the Therepi device and medications improving heart health after damage. The team is actively working on treating other organs with the same technology and a biodegradable version of the implant. Published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Image from Understanding Animal Research
  • Age and Immune Checkpoint Blockade Response. A person’s age appears to play a role when it comes to response to immune checkpoint blockade therapies aimed at combating skin cancer. Checkpoint blockade was recently approved the for treatment of melanoma. However, it was also recognized that not all patients benefit to the same extent and some develop resistance. Researchers at The Wistar Institute followed nearly 500 patients treated with pembrolizumab, a checkpoint therapy. They noticed that response to treatment varied by age. They also noted specifically that older patients had a decreased chance of disease progression. The human observations were further confirmed by studying mouse models. Published in Clinical Cancer Research.
  • A new gene therapy has repaired spinal cord injury in rats. Researchers at King’s College London (KCL) inserted a gene into the spinal cord to prevent the creation of scar tissue, which can prevent new connections forming between nerves after spinal injury. The rats, which had been paralyzed, were able to pick up sugar cubes and feed themselves within a few weeks.  After five to six weeks the rats showed sign of complex movement included reaching, gripping and turning their wrists. The genetic instructions were inserted through a virus, and coded for the enzyme chondroitinase which can break down scar tissue.
  • Sex-changed mouse models of human sexual development disorders. Disorders of sexual development are quite common, and include Swyer and XY Turners syndrome. Now researchers, researchers have created a mouse model of some of these disorders. They accomplished this by removing a small chunk of non-coding DNA, Enh13, from male mice. Enh 13, boosts the production of SOX9 at exactly the right time for testes to form — when removed male mice develop female sex organs instead. Published in Science.