Research Roundup: VA to continue dog research, Zika infection and Dengue risk, exercise reduced drug cravings, 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.

  • The VA will reauthorize studies with dogs. Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie announced late last week that he will reauthorize research with dogs, which is primarily conducted to understand and develop treatments for spinal cord injuries. Canine research at the VA over the years has led to the invention of the cardiac pacemaker and a treatment for deadly cardiac arrhythmias. These and other animal models have also been relied upon for studies of PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Dog in an animal research facility. Photo: UAR.
  • Scientists divided over genetic modification to combat mosquito-borne diseases. We have previously written about the potential use of CRISPR to render mosquitoes sterile, and in turn, eradicate mosquito-borne diseases. While an intriguing idea in principle, a group of scientists have argued that since there is limited cost/benefit data, we should refrain from doing field trials. This proposal is due for vote at the UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) meeting in Egypt next week–and while the outcome is uncertain–one thing is clear: tremendous debate, research, and resources are put into guaranteeing safety and efficacy before potential cures are made available to the public.
  • FDA acknowledges e-cigarette underage usage epidemic. Last week we highlighted that even though cigarette smoking is at an all-time low, other forms of nicotine consumption, and in particular e-cigarettes remain a major health concern and burden. We have also previously highlighted that underage users are a major at risk population–more than 2 million middle and high schoolers used e-cigarette products in 2017. This week the FDA has issued a statement “on proposed new steps to protect youth by preventing access to flavored tobacco products and banning menthol in cigarettes.” While these steps are commendable, this statement neglects children that are already addicted to nicotine, and the vital role that animal research has played and continues to play in our understanding of the long term consequences of exposure to a host of unknown chemicals that co-occur with the consumption of e-cigarettes.
  • Mothers infected by Zika are at risk for contracting severe dengue fever and vice versa. While the prevalence of Zika infections has lessened, there still remains substantial concern about future outbreaks and our preparedness. Regions prone to Zika and Dengue overlap geographically and both diseases derive from flaviviruses. New research, in mice, has highlighted that mothers that have previously contracted Dengue fever are at risk for severe symptoms of Zika, if contracted, and vice versa. They found that Dengue antibodies, which neutralize the Dengue virus, bound and transported the Zika virus into the placenta. While other studies are needed to replicate this result, these initial findings open a new area of research centered around the process of antibody enhancement of virulency. Published in Cell Host & Microbe.
Illustration of a baby with microcephaly (left), a symptom of Zika, compared to a typical baby. Image: CDC
  • How exercise could help reduce drug cravings. Previous studies have shown that exercise can reduce drug cravings and relapse in human addicts, as well as mice. But the mechanism underlying these effects are unknown. New research, which importantly replicates these initial results, has shown that brain peptides (proteins) related to myelin–which “helps to fix memories in place”–were lower in mouse models of cocaine addiction in those that exercised compared to those that did not. Additionally, mice re-exposed to cocaine and who exercised contained higher levels of hemoglobin-derived peptides (small chains of amino acids), while those that were sedentary contained lower levels of actin (found in muscle cells). This new research identifies biomarkers for drug dependence and relapse and potential routes for drug intervention. Published in ACS Omega.