Research Roundup: Promising Zika vaccine, improvements to xenotransplants, royal jelly protein for pluripotency, 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.

  • Following studies in monkeys and mice, Zika vaccine candidate shows promise. A Zika virus candidate is proving itself to be effective in preclinical trials in monkeys and mice. The vaccine, which is being tested by researchers at the University of Hawaii, is produced in insect cells. It uses only a small part of a protein from the Zika virus. An outbreak of the disease in French Polynesia created global headlines and concerns throughout 2013 and 2014, with subsequent outbreaks in Brazil in 2015 and 2016. There is currently no approved vaccine for Zika, which can be carried by mosquitos and through sexual contact. It can also be passed from mothers to their children. The research is published in Frontiers in Immunology.
animal testing, monkey research
Macaque monkeys. Photo credit: CNPRC.
  • New protocols improve pig-to-primate heart transplants. In previous work, the longest survival of a primate receiving a pig heart transplant was 57 days. In a new study examining the xenotransplantation of juvenile pig hearts into baboons, one of the primates lived in general good condition for 195 days. The researchers utilized a new organ preservation method and drug protocol, which improved short-term cardiac function and prevented long-term overgrowth problems. Another recipient baboon lived for 182 days and two others lived in good health for three months. Although more work is needed to address the aggressive immune response to xenotransplantation in humans, this study shows promise for new organ transplant methods. This work was published in Nature.
  • Study findings in mice will help human patients with life-threatening genetic mutation. Researchers at the at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), found that an elevated hormone in mice with liver disease mimicked an inherited disease found in humans called methylmalonic acidemia (MMA).  Doctors will now be able to measure hormone levels (fibroblast growth factor 21 or FGF21) to predict the impact on patients’ livers in order to provide treatment earlier and to help determine when to refer these patients for liver transplants. Dr. Charles P. Venditti, author and senior investigator on the study, says, “Findings from mouse studies usually take years to translate into health care treatment, but not in this case.” The research team is hopeful that this discovery will help medical teams treat MMA patients before they develop severe complications.  These results may also shed light on other metabolic disorders such as fatty liver disease, obesity, and diabetes.  This study was published in JCI Insight.
  • Honeybee food ingredient keeps embryonic stem cells pluripotent. Honeybees control the development of their larvae by altering their diet with a special food called royal jelly. Researchers applied royalactin, a protein believed to be the active ingredient in royal jelly, to mouse embryonic stem cells. Even in the absence of normal inhibitors, the cells remained pluripotent for up to 20 generations. Since mammals do not make royalactin, researchers searched for a mammalian equivalent and found a protein, NHLRC3, that forms a similar structure. When added to mouse embryonic stem cells, NHLRC3 blocked differentiation and produced similar results to royalactin. Researchers plan to investigate the effects of NHLRC3 on wound healing and tissue regeneration in adult animals. This work was published in Nature Communications.