Research Roundup: OCD medication to treat deadly sepsis; leopard tortoise inspires insulin pill 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.

  • Medication used to treat OCD could stop deadly sepsis. An antidepressant drug used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder could save people from deadly sepsis, new research from the University of Virginia, School of Medicine suggests. Sepsis is a significant cause of death around the world. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Infection calls it “the body’s extreme response to an infection.” Essentially, the body’s immune response spirals out of control, and the normally beneficial inflammation becomes harmful. The result can be tissue damage, organ failure or even death. To evaluate the potential of one drug, the antidepressant fluvoxamine, to stop sepsis, researchers tested it in a mouse model of the disease. Only 9 percent of the mice given fluvoxamine died, compared with 62 percent of the untreated mice. Published in Science Translational Medicine.
  • Leopard tortoise inspires insulin pill tested in pigs. A team led by researchers at MIT has developed an oral insulin medication that in pigs lowered blood sugar to levels comparable to standard shots. To make sure the pill would stay right side up, researchers looked to the leopard tortoise for inspiration in designing its shape. This type of tortoise evolved a shell that lets it right itself if it lands on its back. This breakthrough could ease medication delivery and increase compliance, particularly in patients with a fear or dislike of needles. The research was published in Science.
  • New Research Suggests Exercise Can Combat Alzheimer’s Disease. While research has yet to unearth medications that can successfully prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease, exercise may be one successful strategy. A series of studies have shown that a hormone called irisin, which is released during exercise is found in lower levels in people with Alzheimer’s. Animal studies show the hormone can also protect animals against memory loss and brain damage. Published in Nature Medicine.
  • Better Sleep Habits May Guard Against Heart Disease. Researchers studying mice have discovered a mechanism in the body that appears to protect against atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). However, this only occurs when a person is getting a good night’s rest.  Researchers claim a key brain hormone controls the production of inflammatory cells in bone marrow and this helps protect blood vessels from damage. The research involved the study of mice genetically engineered to develop atherosclerosis. Published in Nature.

  • New method for regenerating heart cells in mammals. Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine have determined how to reprogram cardiomyocytes (i.e. heart muscle cells) to an embryonic state, allowing them to grow and proliferate. They did this by using a mouse model and turning on new genes in the Hippo pathway, called YAP5SA, which promote cardiomyocyte proliferation. This is the first time cardiomyocytes have been genetically manipulated to return to a more embryonic state in live animals. Published in Developmental Cell.