Research Roundup: Preventing macular degeneration blindness; A vaccine to the bio-terrorism toxin ricin 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.

  • Experimental drug saves nonhuman primates from deadly bio-terrorism toxin. A new study has demonstrated the life-saving effects of a therapeutic designed to treat exposure to ricin, a poison found naturally in castor beans. The toxin can penetrate cell membranes and prevent protein synthesis, causing cell and, eventually, whole-body death. Researchers modeled the new drug after the structure of antibodies that were produced by nonhuman primates that received a vaccine to ricin. In this study, all five animals that received the drug four hours after exposure to ricin survived for the duration of the study. The two animals in the control group, who received saline in place of the drug, died after ricin exposure within two days. Researchers plan to develop a stronger version of the drug that will be effective at a longer time period after exposure. Published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Male rhesus macaque. Source: Kathy West.
  • Swiss Researchers transform Cancer Cells into Fat Cells. Researchers in Switzerland are developing a novel way to combat cancer. Using a mouse model, the researchers were able to transform human breast cancer cells into fat cells. They did this by taking advantage of the plasticity of certain cancer cells. The research involved the use of two previously approved FDA medications. While the treatment did not change all breast cancer cells into fat cells it did stop the spread of the disease. The work is considered very preliminary. Published in the journal Cancer Cell.
Source: Alfredo Gutiérrez
  • Genetically modified bacteria cleans ammonia build-up in body. Ammonia build-up in the body, or hyperammonemia, is common for patients with liver damage or those with a rare genetic disorder disrupting the liver’s ability to process ammonia. This build-up affects the brain and causes sickness, loss of appetite, and sometimes irreversible or fatal brain damage. By genetically modifying the common bacteria, E. Coli nissle, scientists were able to clean up the excess ammonia in a mouse model for hyperammonemia. E. Coli nissle is a known probiotic for lowering blood pressure in humans and converts ammonia into an essential amino acid; arginine. The modified bacteria was also tested on humans with no major side-effects. Published in Science Translational Medicine.