Research Roundup: Three paralyzed men walk again thanks to animal research; a promising new therapy to stop Parkinson’s disease 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.

  • Three paralyzed men walk again thanks to animal research. Spinal cord injury leads to severe locomotor deficits or even complete leg paralysis. Today, an experimental procedure, piloted in rats and nonhuman primates, may allow humans to walk again. The procedure works by using patterned electrical stimulation, sending electrical impulses to muscles as needed, imitating the body’s own signaling mechanisms. Chet Moritz, a brain scientist at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the study, commented “The exciting thing about these findings is that they hold out the promise that spinal cord injuries can be cured, to an extent that restores walking, and that many movements persist even when stimulation is turned off.” Published in Nature.
  • A promising new therapy to stop Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a debilitating disorder that affects 1% of individuals over 60. Approximately 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s and approximately 60,000 Americans are newly diagnosed each year. Researchers have found that the immune target, NLRP3 inflammasome is active in Parkinson’s patients. Using mouse model they found that a new drug, MCC950, which blocks NLRP3 activation in the brain, prevented the loss of brain cells, resulting in markedly improved motor function. Lead researcher, Dr. Richard Gordon stated, “The findings provide exciting new insight into how the spread of toxic proteins occurs in Parkinson’s disease and highlights the important role of the immune system in this process.” Published in Science Translational Medicine.
  • Using a dog’s keen sense of smell to detect malaria. One of the primary issues with malaria is that people can carry the parasite without obvious symptoms. Another is that screening thousands of people to identify potential carriers is extremely costly. A dog’s nose may prove to be the key to a cost-effective solution. New research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, has provided first evidence of proof of principle. First dogs were trained to identify the odors secreted into the socks of malaria infected individuals and then tested. They correctly identified the odors of malaria infected persons 70% of the time and uninfected individuals 90% of the time. While there is still much to be done in terms of validation, this cost effective solution, is a promising first step.
  • Nonhuman Primates still essential in neuroscience research. This week, scientists have published a recent correspondence advocating for the continued use of nonhuman primates throughout science. Nonhuman primates have lead to fundamental knowledge on human brain function and contributed to therapies for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, some scientific institutes, like the NIH, have been retiring nonhuman primates because of ethical controversy. Nonetheless, the nonhuman primate remains the only model that allows for carefully controlled or invasive studies that can reveal the basic mechanisms affected by human diseases. Published in Current Biology.
  • Llama’s and a universal flu vaccine. Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have successfully vaccinated mice from a variety of strains of influenza using antibodies derived from llamas. The success and universal nature of the llama antibodies seems to be associated with their small size–relative to other antibodies–allowing them to attach to a wide-variety of influenza antigens. The study is preliminary and it may be quite some time before we see it in clinical trials. Published in Science.