Research Roundup: nano-particle based vaccine against anthrax and the plague, successful implantation of bio-engineered esophagus 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.

  • New nano-particle vaccine protects against anthrax and the plague. Bacillus anthracis and Yersinia pestis, which cause anthrax and the plague, respectively, are two deadly pathogenic bacteria that have also been used in biological warfare. In 2017, researchers created two vaccines against these bacteria, which led to robust immune response in mice, rats, and rabbits. This week, these researchers have announced the creation of a single nano-particle based vaccine which targets both type of bacteria. Again using mice, rats and rabbits, the team demonstrated inoculation against both anthrax and the plague–although 2 doses were required for complete protection. “This dual anthrax-plague vaccine is a strong candidate for stockpiling against a potential bioterror attack involving either one or both of these biothreat agents,” the researchers said. Published in mBio.
  • Bio-engineered esophagus implanted in mice. The esophagus is a multi-layered organ with a primary role of facilitating transfer of materials from the mouth to the stomach. Approximately 1 in 3000 babies are born with a damaged esophagus. New proof of principle research may provide a solution. Researchers bio-engineered an esophagus using a rat esophagus stripped of its cells as a scaffold and early-stage muscle and connective tissue of mice, humans, and rats to form the tissue. The use of different cells from different species enabled these researchers to differentiate the origin of each cell type which developed. Sections of the bio-engineered organ were transplanted into mice and achieved connectivity with existing tissue as well as functionality within a week. Published in Nature Communications.
  • The dangerous impacts of smoking may pass from one generation to the next. Researchers at Florida State University say nicotine use could lead to gene changes in male sperm. As a result, this could affect how the children and even grandchildren of nicotine users develop. The research findings came via a mouse study where male mice ingested water containing nicotine. The researchers then bred the male mice with females who ingested a normal diet. The nicotine-exposed mice were shown to have significant DNA changes in their sperm. The resulting mice offspring were born with dopamine and noradrenaline abnormalities. The offspring were also more likely to be hyperactive, have attention deficits and struggle with cognitive flexibility. Published in Plos Biology.

  • Exercise may have the ability to “clean” the Alzheimer’s brain. Little progress has been made in stopping or even slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. However, new research in mice led by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School suggests that physical exercise can “clean up” the hostile environments in the brains of those impacted. Scientists believe exercise might allow for cognitive improvements, such as learning and memory. They also suggest that medications might be developed that can “enrich the hippocampal environment to boost cell growth.” The research which involved mice that model Alzheimer’s had greatly enhanced memory function compared to sedentary animals. The research team also found that they could recover brain function – not only with exercise – but by increasing hippocampal cell growth with medication and other interventions. Published in Science Magazine.
  • New evidence supports the link between gut bacteria and brain health. Two new studies by researchers at the University of Kentucky indicate that gut bacteria may regulate neurovascular integrity. In the first study, healthy mice were given a ketogenic diet (KD), which is a high-fat, low-carb diet that restricts carbohydrates to induce a metabolic state called ketosis. Compared to mice on a regular diet, after 16 weeks the KD mice showed positive changes in the balance of the gut microbiome, increases in cerebral blood flow, and increases in the process that clears amyloid-beta from the brain, which indicated a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease. In the second study, neuroimaging data showed improved neurovascular function accompanied by improved metabolic function after caloric restriction in mice compared to those on an unrestricted diet. These studies were published in Scientific Reports and Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, respectively.