Research Roundup: fecal transplants to decrease risk of organ transplant rejection, bacterial injection for the treatment of cancer 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.

  • Fecal swaps may make decrease risk of organ transplant rejection. Besides waiting on a relevant donor for an organ transplant, the risk of rejection of the donated organ or of a low level immune system attacking the donating organs remains real risks to individuals who have an organ transplant. Now, new research, in mice, suggests that a fecal transplant of the organ donor may be key to decreasing rates of rejection and to suppressing immune system responses. The reason for this is that bacteria in the bowel, regulates the immune system and prevents it from launching an attack on foreign tissue. Published in Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight.
  • Bacterial injections and their use for treating cancer. Early research in the 1890’s indicated that injection of killed bacteria into inoperable cancers may stall their growth. In 2014, research in dogs, indicated that this treatment may be viable–despite a low success rate (37.5%). Encouraged by this work, researchers treated a woman with leiomyosarcoma, and her tumor also shrunk. Researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, have since treated 23 patients with advanced cancers–19 of them have shown significant improvement. While there is still a lot to understand with respect to process, risk factors and comorbidities — this is a good example of timescales of the research process and their effects on human health and disease.

  • The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to two researchers for their work in demonstrating different strategies for “releasing the brakes” on the immune system to be able to treat cancer. This discovery has since led to numerous novel treatments for many types of cancer, and importantly relied on work with animal cells and in animal models.
  • Deep Space Travel May Significantly Damage GI Function in Astronauts. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center are working to determine the effects of long tern space travel on astronauts. To understand this, they’ve exposed mice to a low dose of iron radiation, simulating a space environment, and found that the tissue in their digestive tracts experienced damage. “With the current shielding technology, it is difficult to protect astronauts from the adverse effects of heavy ion radiation. Although there may be a way to use medicines to counter these effects, no such agent has been developed yet,” says the study’s senior investigator, Kamal Datta, MD.” Previous studies have documented damage to some other vital organs. Researchers want to understand these effects so that future space travelers can be protected. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Making Mice a bit more “Human” to study Preterm births. Mice with human DNA allowed scientists to reveal what controls expression of a stress hormone called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone is linked to the timing of when babies are born. Those born too early or too late can experience life long health problems. Louis Muglia, MD, senior scientist on the study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital says,“The challenge with studying human pregnancy is the typical biomedical approach requires a relevant animal for research. It’s been done for cancer and many other diseases. The problem is pregnancy in humans is different enough that it’s not been possible to effectively translate the findings from the animal studies to humans.” Now researchers have a potential animal model to help them answer long standing questions about whether environmental effects impact the expression of genes important for healthy babies. Published in PLOS Biology.