Research Roundup: Sewage and birds, combating Crohn’s disease, mice in Alzheimer’s research 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.

A starling
A starling. (Daniel Baleckaitis/University of California at San Diego/AP)

Prozac in sewage may disrupt mating in birds. Antidepressants like Prozac can decrease sex drive in humans, but they may also affect wildlife when these drugs reach sewage treatment plants. Because drugs like Prozac can reach treatment plants and birds often eat the worms in the plants, scientists designed a controlled experiment to estimate if low doses typically found in treatment plants may affect the birds. They found that female starling birds that ingested small doses of Prozac had more sporadic behavior and were less likely to mate. This could result in fewer birds being born, and it’s likely that Prozac isn’t the only drug being ingested from the sewage system. This research was published in the journal Chemosphere.

Combating Crohn’s disease with stem cell transplants. Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation has successfully ‘rebooted’ the immune systems of patients with multiple sclerosis and some cancers, and is now being trialed on patients with Crohn’s disease. Current medications for Crohn’s often only have short-term effects, however a ‘new’ immune system will likely prolong the effectiveness of these medications. Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation was first performed in the early 1950s with mice, and was continued with rats, guinea pigs, dogs, and non-human primates before reaching clinical trials on humans. The clinical trial for Crohn’s disease will be led by Queen Mary University of London.

Mouse studies suggest pH imbalance may play a role in Alzheimer’s. New research led by scientists at Johns Hopkins University suggests that pH imbalance in brain cells may be tied to Alzheimer’s disease. The findings came through studies of mouse brain cells, called astrocytes. The scientists were specifically observing endosomes, cell components that regulate the trafficking of proteins and lipids, which appear to be impacted by pH imbalance. The researchers believe this new data identifies possible new drug targets which could reverse the problem. The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


influenza A virus
Photo by: Andia/UIG via Getty Images

Hospital superbugs are evolving to survive hand sanitizers. Researchers found that despite increased focus on sanitation, drug resistant infections continue to thrive in hospital patients. To examine this, researchers worked with mice to test the effectiveness of hand sanitizers used by hospital workers. The sanitizer was used to clean the floor of the animal cages and then feces were tested. The result was that alcohol tolerant bacteria, specifically Enterococcus faecium, infected the mice. This particular bacteria has become a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections and is resistance to many antibiotics. The E. faecium strains used for the study were collected between 1997 and 2015. The samples collected after 2010 were resistant. Upon further examination, researchers learned that these bacteria underwent gene mutations for multiple processes resulting in the alcohol tolerance. More research is needed to determine how bacterial adaptation should be considered when formulating hospital sanitation protocols. This study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

Mouse Study Suggests Oncogene May Serve as Tumor Suppressor. According to new research by scientists at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre and the German Cancer Research Centre, a mutated gene previously thought to participate in cancer cell growth may instead be attempting to fight the disease. Following recent studies involving mice, the research team believes PLK1, or polo-like kinase 1, could be a tumor suppressor. The scientists believe this may be the case after they modified mice so that they over-express the PLK1 gene. However, surprisingly, these rodents did not develop any more tumors than normal mice. In addition, the scientists crossed the PLK1 gene mice with others that express genes tied to breast cancer. In this case, the researchers expected a much greater incidence of cancer. But instead the appearance of tumors was reduced drastically. As a result, scientists are now investigating PLK1 as a possible cancer fighter. The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.