Research Roundup: Monkey models naturally mimic childhood neurodegenerative disease, life expectancy in naked mole rats, 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.

Rhesus monkey.
  • Scientists have discovered a naturally occurring disease in monkeys that mimics a deadly childhood neurodegenerative disorder. A multidisciplinary team of veterinarians and scientists at Oregon Health & Science University’s Oregon National Primate Research Center have found that a small population of Japanese macaque monkeys carry a mutation in the CLN7 gene. The gene mutation causes a disease that closely resembles a form of Batten disease. Batten disease is actually a family of disorders of the nervous system responsible for the majority of neurodegenerative brain diseases that affect children. The early stages for many children with the disease feature vision loss, seizures, motor skills problems, learning disabilities and personality changes. As they age, symptoms become worse and children affected typically succumb in their teens. Researchers are currently working on various gene therapy approaches. The study is published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.
  • Naked mole rats give new perspective on the link between reproductive history and life expectancy. It is reported that within mammals, the process of reproduction reduces the lifespan of the parents, with the “pay off” being the propagation of the species and the transfer of genetic material. However, a recent study at the Leibniz Institute on Ageing, using naked mole rats, has found this not to be the case. Sampling from a colony consisting of 300 non-breeders and 2 breeders, several genetic differences were found between the two groups. As well as outliving the non-breeders, transcriptome analysis found that the breeding couple had increased expression of genes involved in reparative processes such as muscle regeneration. This confers ‘anti-ageing’ benefits and keeps the mole rat’s body in a more physically youthful state for longer. This finding warrants further investigation into naked mole rat sexual maturation, as it may provide clues as to the ways in which factors like puberty onset, age of parenthood, and number of children affects how long humans live.
Naked mole rat.
  • New drugs tested on mice stop cancer progression by putting cells ‘to sleep’.  Current chemotherapy treatments administered to cancer patients take a heavy toll on the body, often to the point where patients refuse to continue with their regime. This is because of a failure to pin-point the cancerous cells, which leads to the medicine destroying healthy cells and tissue as well. A recent collaboration by researchers in Melbourne tested a new class of drugs, which are able to specifically target two genes responsible for cancer progression (KAT6A and KAT6B). Mouse models of lymphoma and blood cancers were used, and administration of the new drugs increased life expectancy, did not greatly damage healthy tissue, and halted tumor progression by forcing cancer cells to switch to a state of senescence. This holds great promise for eventual human clinical trials.