Category Archives: News

Research Roundup: Studying deadly cancers in dogs, low calorie diet and type 2 diabetes 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.

  • “Researchers are turning to the family dog to find clues in hopes to find a cure for one of the deadliest forms of cancer.” Glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer, killed over 15,000 people in 2015 and also affects dogs.  Researchers say that microscopic evaluation of the cancers in dogs and humans are very similar.  Roel Verhaak, a biologist and professor at Jackson Labs, says the goal of this research is to find anything, “..to prolong life expectancy and ultimately a cure.”  He and his team hope to find specific areas in the cells of the donated cancer tumors from dogs that are abnormal and compare them to abnormalities in the human form of the cancer.  Once this is clear, focus on faster ways to diagnose the cancer and more effective treatments can be developed.

Example of a short nosed dog.

  • Are all laboratory mice the same? Lab mice are commonly inbred through brother-sister mating. This practice of inbreeding allows researchers to study mice that are virtually genetically identical, thereby standardizing genes within and between experiments. However, between every 10 to 30 generations, new mutations pop up due to genetic drift — thus, not all mice are identical across generations despite inbreeding. To understand the degree of this problem, researchers at JAX “reset” the genetic mutations in 2005 by only selling C57BL/6 (B6) mice from an ancestral Adam and Eve. They then froze hundreds of embryos of the duo’s grandchildren to maintain genetically identical mice for 25-30 years, thereby bypassing issues of genetic drift. In a presentation at the American Society for Human Genetics’ Meeting, JAX scientists reported that their ancestral B6 mice have different genomes than B6 mice used by other breeding centers (e.g. Charles River) and the reference B6 genome all scientists use from 2002. The research will not be published until early 2018, so we will have to wait until then to learn how much genetic drift may be affecting experiments.

The C57BL/6 mouse.

  • The link between gut bacteria, high salt diet, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Consuming a high salt diet is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and hypertension. In the present study researchers investigated whether consuming a high salt diet affects the gut microbiome and whether this would be linked to subsequent detrimental health effects. In mice and humans, they found that a high salt diet let to a decrease in Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut and increased blood pressure. When given a probiotic, they found that that the bacteria and blood pressure levels remained unchanged. Professor Alm, the lead author on this research states ““We hope that our findings, along with future studies, will help to shed more light on the mechanism by which a high-salt diet influences disease.” This research was published in the journal Nature.
  • Low calorie diet reverses type 2 diabetes through multiple pathways. It is known that a low calorie diet can reverse type 2 diabetes — but the mechanism via which a low calorie diet exerts these effects is poorly understood. Using rats, researchers found that after only three days of being provided a very low calorie diet, specific metabolic processes in the liver were altered and which corresponded to the lowering of blood glucose concentrations. Professor Schulman stated: “These results, if confirmed in humans, will provide us with novel drug targets to more effectively treat patients with type 2 diabetes.”  This research was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

 

How to explain animal research on your institution’s website

Exactly three years ago, Speaking of Research published a page listing around 100 animal research statements of research institutions, universities, medical research charities, pharmaceuticals, scientific societies and more. After a year of building up this list, we introduced a rating system that let organizations know how good their statement was. We gave them marks according to how informative the core statement was, whether there was further, extensive information, whether they included case studies, and whether there were images or videos on the website. Ten institutions managed top marks in November 2015. Now, two years on, we have 350 statements of which 29 have scored full marks.

Not only have the number of statements increased over the years, but also the number of organizations which track them. This includes Americans for Medical Progress, Foundation for Biomedical Research, and the Concordat on Openness website (to sign the Concordat, organizations must first have a clear statement on their website). What makes the Speaking of Research list special is both its breadth (we are the only one covering multiple countries) and its rating system.

So what do we look for in an organization’s animal research pages? Let’s take an example from an institution that recently revamped its website into one that achieved full marks:

The Babraham Institute is a UK Government research institution run by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC; who also have a great website) with a stated goal of undertaking “world-leading research into understanding the biology of how our body works”. The animal research web pages are easy to find and  clearly marked in the web address:

https://www.babraham.ac.uk/our-research/animal-research

As a result, if you search on the website for “animal research” or “animal testing” the webpage comes up. Similarly googling the organization name and “animal research/testing” brings up the website in the first link.

The opening statement is short but gives a clear indication of why animals are used. This statement also ensures the website appears on our statement list.

Babraham Institute scientists study fundamental processes in our cells: how they develop, survive, function, age and die. This basic biology underpins future medical advances, just as past research led to the treatments we receive today. The benefits will be felt in our children’s and grandchildren’s generations but without today’s basic science there will be no foundation for tomorrow’s medical research.

Mammals differ widely in size and shape but their cells and genes are broadly similar. Because of this, information from studies of mice or rats can be relevant to other mammals including humans, pets and farm animals.

Between this and the policy page, there is enough of a clear explanation of why the organization conducts animal research to grant it the first ✓ mark for “More information”.

There are many ways to get the second ✓ mark for “Extensive information”. Babraham manage it by providing additional information on their ethical review policies, implementation of the 3Rs (each R has its own detailed page including case studies), and a FAQs section which provides information not just on the use, but also the limits, of animal research.

The Examples page provides six case studies of how animal studies have helped research at the Babraham Institute. Further case studies of the 3Rs can also be found in the relevant section. This grants the website the “Case Studies” ✓ mark.

Finally, the website shows high-resolution images of animals in the facility. This allows them to get a ✓ mark for “Images / Videos”, though in the future we would love to see some videos showing how and why animals are used.

Image Credit: The Babraham Institute

So there we have it – a handful of ideas for improving your website. To provide a summary.

  1. >Make sure your organization has a clear online statement online explaining why animal research is conducted. (✓)
  2. Put the statement on an easy-to-find page on the website, preferably with the phrase “animal-research” in the URL. Try to avoid putting the statement in a PDF file.
  3. Make sure the statement can be found when people search your website or a search engine for it. Remember, some people will search “animal experiments” or “animal testing”, as well as “animal research”.
  4. Provide additional information about how the research is conducted and how it is regulated. This could be in FAQs, or on pages on regulation, ethics, statistics, animal welfare or research areas. (✓)
  5. Provide clear case studies that explain why animals were needed to solve a research question, and what happened to the animal. If possible provide information about how animal welfare was maintained. (✓)
  6. Put images and videos on your website to give readers an understanding of the high levels of care you have for your animals. Make sure these images are large, clear pictures of animals in your facility – not just small animal pictures. (✓)
  7. Add a link to the Speaking of Research website – this helps readers of your website find more information on animal research, and helps our Google ranking so we can continue to educate the public. Perhaps something like:
    For more information about the role of animals in research, we recommend checking out the Speaking of Research website.  
  8. Make sure your website appears on our list. If not, contact us on the form below.

We are also happy to provide free advice and recommendations for how to improve your animal research pages. So please feel free to contact us on the form below. It helps our overall goal of providing accurate information about the role of animals in medical, veterinary and scientific research.

We hope this resource helps

Speaking of Research

2017 SFN Attendees: Does your research depend on animal models?

If it does, consider adding this session to your conference plan:

What: SFN Animals in Research Panel. How to Effectively Communicate Your Animal Research:  Elevator Speech, Social Media, and Best Practices.  When & Where:  Monday November 13. Noon-2pm. Room 103A

Why? (as in, SFN is busy enough, why add a “non-new-science-discoveries-session” to your already packed science agenda?)

Reason 1) Did you answer “Yes, my research depends on animal models?” If so, communicating about your work via media and other public avenues can involve some challenges if you plan on accurately conveying your work.  

Sharing the findings, value, and excitement about research is something that scientists do through peer-reviewed publications, but also popular and public media. Communicating well—in an accessible and engaging way—about new discoveries can be a challenge in of itself. Good science communicators within university and institutional press offices can provide enormously valuable help. For those whose work depends on animal models, there are often unique challenges to public communication about the research. That may range from concern and fear about attracting the attention of opponents of animal research to uncertainly about how to talk about animal research to suppression by institutions who do prefer to remain low profile about their animal research programs.

The SFN panel addresses these challenges and can add to your tool-kit to assist you in broader dissemination of your work. The panel will be led by experts with extensive experience in public communication about animal research.  Together, the interactive panel will provide a basic understanding of, and show attendees strategies to engage with, various audiences on the importance and benefits of animal research.

The panelists include:

Amanda M. Dettmer, a senior editor for Speaking of Research, an international advocacy group that provides accurate information about the importance of animal research in biomedical science. Amanda obtained her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and for over 15 years has been studying nonhuman primate models of human development and disease. She is currently working in Washington, DC, as the American Psychological Association’s 2017-18 Executive Branch Science Policy Fellow.

Paula Clifford, MA Executive Director, Americans for Medical Progress. Paula Clifford is the Executive Director for Americans for Medical Progress where she is leading national advocacy efforts. She creates and implements several innovative programs designed to provide information to the public about biomedical research and the role of animals in advancing medicine and science. Previously, she was the Executive Director for the PA Society for Biomedical Research (PSBR) where she led efforts to provide educational programs about biomedical research for K-12 classrooms.

Chris Barncard, Research Communications, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chris writes about science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describing new insights on the world around us in a way that the uninitiated can understand. Alongside coverage of psychology, engineering and energy research, he helps researchers talk to journalists and the public about their work with animals. His work can be found at the UW-Madison animal research website where a dynamic news section is updated regularly with stories about the university’s research. Chris has also worked as a newspaper reporter, winning awards for coverage of elections, gambling and suicide.

Another reason to make time in your SFN schedule:  Did you answer “Yes, my research depends on animal models?” If so, your work also depends on public knowledge about animal research.  

Why? Because animal research may only be conducted if the public, through its elected representatives, continues to support legislation and regulation that allows for nonhuman animals to be involved in humane, well-regulated, and ethical research.

While you may know that such studies are only permitted in the US under a host of conditions mandated by federal law, it is safe to assume that there is a wide swath of the public—including voters, students, journalists, and policy-makers—who do not know.  You may know that:

  • Animal research is highly-regulated, with standards to protect animal welfare and oversight by institutional and federal agencies
  • Federally-funded research must balance scientific objectives with consideration of animal welfare
  • Laws require that animal research may only be conducted when there is no appropriate alternative to reach the scientific objective
  • Basic research is the foundation of discoveries that provide for new understanding of behavior, brain, biology and health
  • In turn, basic research – much of it with nonhuman animals – is critical to developing new prevention, treatment, and intervention to benefit human and animal health, society, and the environment

None of that may matter much though if the larger public is left in the dark.  Over the past decades, SFN has grown in size and new discoveries in neuroscience have proliferated to substantially advance understanding of the brain and health. At the same time, public opinion polls show a continuing decline in public approval for animal research. The gap between scientists and the public is large. In a recent PEW poll, for example, nearly 90% of AAAS sciences favored the continued use of animals in research, while less than 50% of the general public felt the same.

Opinion differences between the general public and AAAS scientists (adapted from Pew, 2015).

Is this what the scientific community thinks:  Not our job, not our problem?

The gap between opinions of scientists and those of the public is likely caused by many factors. Among them is the probability of differences in knowledge about why animal research is needed, what it has accomplished, when it is necessary, and how it is conducted—including how studies are evaluated, how animals are cared for, and how it is overseen.  Scientists can play an important role in engaging in public dialogue and informing the public about each of these topics.

Scientists have many responsibilities and demands on their time. After all, they are charged with doing science, writing papers and sharing science; with teaching and training students and next generation scientists; with service work that includes reviewing papers and grant proposals; and with generating new ideas, new avenues of discovery and obtaining funding to make the work happen.

None of that leaves a lot of time for public engagement and education about the big picture – why animal research is needed. In some cases, scientists believe that the job of public engagement and communication is one best left to others. Indeed, there are full-time organizations whose mission is entirely public outreach, education, and advocacy.  There are also full-time science communicators, public information officers, and others within our universities and research institutions whose job it is to engage with the public and share news about science.

Scientists themselves play a key role in communicating the science accurately and fully to the public. The SFN panel aims to provide scientists with tools for doing so and with information to carry back and facilitate efforts at their own institutions.

Want to do more?  Tweet, blog, and share!

If you’re planning to be at the SFN panel, please consider live-tweeting the session with hashtags #animalresearch #sfn17.  We will storify the tweets to provide a view for those who cannot attend (and to share with university and institutional communications offices).

Better yet, if you’d like to write a guest post summarizing the panel and your own take-away messages, please contact us or leave a comment below. We would love to provide space for SFN guest bloggers who would like to share why their research matters and why it depends on animal models.

Speaking of Research

 

Research Roundup: Human brain organoids, universal flu vaccine 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.

  • Nighttime injuries heal slower than daytime ones. When animals are wounded, their body recruits different healing cells to help heal the wound. According to research this week, one of those healing cells — fibroblasts — travels at different speeds depending on the time of day. When a wound occurs, fibroblasts travel up through the skin to the surface and begin synthesizing and building structural support for the new skin. While traveling up through the layers of skin, fibroblasts come into contact with actin, which changes its structure throughout the day; long filaments during the day and globular at night. When actin is in a globular state, it is more difficult for the fibroblasts to reach the wound compared to when actin is in the long filament state. This finding was first discovered in skin-cells growing in a petri dish and then in the skin of mice. Medical records of humans recovering from burns show the same daytime-nighttime effect, but they have yet to study whether it is related to fibroblasts and actin. This research was published in Science Translational Medicine.
  • Ethical concerns on implanting human brain organoids in rodents. Almost 4 years ago scientists discovered how to turn human stem cells into human brain tissue (organoids). Since this discovery, scientists have been growing lentil-sized human brain tissue in test-tubes — until now. This weekend two research groups will report implanting human brain organoids into the brains of mice and rats, at the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in Washington D.C. The research reports that same of the implanted brain organoids became vascularized over the course of 2 months and the organoid began sending out axons to different parts of the host mouse brain. Bioethicists do not believe these procedures will make human-brained mice, but it may make them “human-ish.” This research is still in early stages and has not yet undergone rigorous peer-review, but the ethical concerns remain. Scientists may soon call for a commission to determine whether limits should be placed on how large the human brain organoids can grow, for example. Nonetheless, this research is exciting and may lead to many new animal models from Alzheimer’s to Zika. This research was published in an abstract for this weekend’s meeting.
  • Mother’s BPA exposure may influence offspring health. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an endocrine system disrupting chemical. Previous animal studies have shown that exposure to BPA is associated with cancer, behavior disorders, and reproductive issues. A new study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University tested the effects of BPA on the offspring of female rabbits exposed during gestation. Rabbits were used in the study because they have a longer gestational period compared to rats and mice. The researchers found that BPA given to a pregnant female caused inflammation in the colon and liver of its offspring. Gut bacteria in the offspring exposed to BPA were also much less diversified, and offspring also had reduced beneficial bacterial metabolites and increased gut permeability (“leaky gut”). These three markers are hallmarks for inflammation induced chronic disease.  Using human colon cells, the researchers were able to reduce the gut permeability phenomenon by adding in the bacterial metabolites to BPA-treated cells. The researchers hypothesize that giving back bacterial metabolites lost through chemical exposure may reduce the risk of chronic diseases later in life. This research was published in mSystems.
  • Near-universal flu vaccine created. Influenza is a ubiquitous disease, with approximately 3-5 million cases yearly, and 250,000-500,000 deaths. Every year, a seasonal flu vaccine is created, that protects against either three or four of the more common predicted strains of influenza virus for the upcoming flu season. Sometimes, these predictions match and sometime they don’t. Now, scientists have created a new vaccine which could provide lifelong inoculation for most strains of the influenza virus. They accomplished this by identifying key set of ancestral genes in the older versions of different influenza strains and engineering a new vaccine. Mice inoculated by this new vaccine survived lethal doses of 7 out of 9 tested strains of the influenza virus. While there is still a way to go before this makes it to clinical trials – such as evaluation of lifelong immunity – this is a promising step. This research was published in the journal Scientific Reports

  • Breakthrough could lead to more effective treatments for diseases of the gut. The process where cells are broken down and elements recycled is called autophagy. This process helps to keep our bodies healthy, but when dysfunctional can cause tissue inflammation – particularly in the gut. In a new study, using fruit flies, researchers have identified that a protein called Kenny, accumulates and cause the inflammation when the process of authophay is dysfunctional. Understanding how autophagy process goes dysfunctional may lend insight into the development of effective treatments of diseases to the gut. This research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Researchers Rally to Help Puerto Rico’s Monkey Island

A guest post by Lisa Howard of UCDavis explains the efforts by the National Primate Research Centers to help rebuild Cayo Santiago, better known as ‘Monkey Island’ rebuild after Hurricane Maria.

Primate researchers are rallying to help Puerto Rico’s “Monkey Island,” Cayo Santiago, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria in September. About a thousand rhesus macaques roam free on the 38-acre island, which is run by the Caribbean Primate Research Center and the University of Puerto Rico.

Although all the animals apparently survived, the island’s infrastructure and equipment – piers, buildings, rainwater collection systems, even the cages where researchers could eat lunch without it being stolen by monkeys – was destroyed. On the main island of Puerto Rico, the town of Punto Santiago, where the research center’s headquarters is located and where many staff live, was devastated, losing water, electricity and communications.

Directors of the seven U.S. National Primate Research Centers decided they needed to help Cayo Santiago rebuild. Professor John Morrison, director of the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis noted:

We view CPRC as one of our sister centers, and fortunately, we were able to mobilize our response and deliver material in a very timely fashion. We are in constant communication with CPRC and stand ready to help in any way we can going forward,”

Each of the U.S. centers is contributing $5,000 to a fund to help Cayo Santiago. Darcy Hannibal, a project scientist at the CNPRC and colleagues worked to fill a shipping container with desperately needed supplies for both the field station’s staff and the research facility, including water, canned food, diapers, baby formula, tarps, water purification tablets and filters, chain saws and other equipment.

The researchers also prepared an emergency National Science Foundation grant application for Cayo Santiago to replace equipment.

Cayo Santiago, the oldest free-ranging research colony in the world for primates, took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. The island’s infrastructure was obliterated. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Brent, University of Exeter)

Hannibal did her doctoral work at Cayo Santiago in 2004-5, observing feeding behavior in the monkeys. She and her colleagues at UC Davis hope they can get the word out about the importance of this unique research facility and get help for its people and animals.

All of the macaques on the island are descended from 409 monkeys brought to the island in 1938. All the animals are identified and their pedigrees are known, making it an invaluable resource for scientists who study primates. Researchers from universities in the United States and Europe use the island for a wide variety of primate behavior studies.

“There’s no other population that has so much long-term history,” said Hannibal. “It’s a remarkable resource for studying primates.”

In addition to supplies, Hannibal and other supporters are trying to raise cash for the facility. Two GoFundMe pages have been created, one for the staff, Relief for Cayo Santiago Employees, and one for the animals, Cayo Santiago Monkeys: Maria Relief. There is also a Facebook page, Friends of Cayo Santiago, where people can get updates about the damage and recovery efforts. Hannibal can be reached directly at dlhannibal@ucdavis.edu.

Lisa Howard

Openness by the numbers: Ten universities conduct one third of all UK animal research

The ten British universities which conduct the most animal research have come together to proactively publicise their exact figures to the public and media. The press release by the ten institutions was coordinated by Understanding Animal Research. It is the second time that universities have come together to publicise their numbers.

Of the 46 universities which are signed up to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, 29 of them have their numbers published openly on the website. These numbers include all vertebrates – every mouse, rat and fish, as well as larger species (but not invertebrates like fruit flies and nematode worms, which are not currently regulated species in any country).

The UK Home Office animal research statistics show 1,938,638 procedures on animals at universities and medical schools in Great Britain in 2016 (Northern Ireland conducted an additional 17,615 in 2015; 2016 figures are not available). Of the 28 that publish statistics (QUB are in Northern Ireland, which produces national statistics separately), their combined number of procedures is 1,703,657. This means 88% of all procedures at universities in Great Britain can be found in statistics freely available on university websites.

Image by Understanding Animal Research

The top ten universities accounted for over 70% of all animal research at universities in Great Britain.

The University of Oxford conducted the most procedures for the second year running. Last year (2015 statistics) the top five were:

  1. University of Oxford (226,214)
  2. University of Edinburgh (212,695)
  3. University College London (202,554)
  4. University of Cambridge (181,080)
  5. King’s College London (175,296)

The list is remarkably similar to 2016. In fact, the top seven universities have been identical for both years (though slightly reordered). These seven universities are also all in the Top 60 Universities in the World (according to THE World University Ranking; all of the 2016 Top 10 appears in the THE Top 150 Universities in the World). The University of Oxford, which uses the most animals in the UK, is also ranked the top of the World University Rankings.

The fact that these ten universities have chosen not only to publicise their animal numbers on their website but also to proactively press release it to national and local press, serves two purposes. Firstly, it shows a commitment to openness, embodied the Concordat on Openness. Secondly, it helps tackle misinformation from animal rights groups that make Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to universities and then press release the results with emotive headlines like “Disappointing lack of progress at UK universities as worst offenders for animal testing are revealed”(By Cruelty Free International). Animal rights groups have often skewed information when it comes to animal numbers in the UK, as happened when PETA described the animals used in the 2015 statistics.

By publishing the statistics themselves, the university cannot be accused of hiding away its animal research. It also allows them to provide some context to the numbers – allowing them to explain the types of research these animals are being used for. Take a look at this great infographic by the University of Manchester.

In publicising these numbers, Professor David Lomas, UCL Vice-Provost (Health) said:

“As a world-leading medical research institution, animal research forms a small but vital part of UCL’s biomedical research as we seek new ways to benefit human health. As there are many misconceptions about how animal studies are conducted and regulated, and the considerable benefit they yield, it is important that we talk about it clearly and openly to show how it contributes to medical advances and how we are working to reduce, replace and refine our use of animals where possible.”

We hope these universities continue to publicise their animal research in the future.

Speaking of Research

While mice remain the most common species used at universities in the UK, zebrafish are an increasingly popular model. Image of zebrafish at KCL. Image Credit: SpeakingofResearch.com

Research Roundup: Fishy feelings, young blood and Alzheimer’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.

  • Fish with feelings. Human emotion can be directly measured using interviews or surveys; however, the assessment of emotion in animals is not as simple. Fortunately, the behavioral, physiologic, neurologic, and genetic changes that accompany emotion can be assessed instead. For example, previous work has shown that highly evolved mammals, such as primates, display “jealous” behaviors. The occurrence of emotions in simpler animals, such as fish, has been debated for many years. A new study showed that Gilthead Sea Bream, a type of fish, displayed emotional reactions (i.e., investigative or escape behaviors) to stimuli presented under favorable or aversive conditions. Emotion was also assessed in the fish by measuring levels of cortisol and the activation of brain areas associated with positive and negative emotional states. This research indicates that simple animals may possess the cognitive ability to use emotions to guide their actions. This research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Gilthead Sea Bream, Image credit: Aqua EcoSystems

  • Results of first trial of infusing of young blood are in. Previous research in mice has suggested that infusion of young blood, through parabiosis, can improve the health of older mice. This work eventually led to the first small scale clinical trial in humans – involving the transfusion of young blood to older individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Original reports of the results of that study were glowing – reporting modest improvements in the daily lives of these Alzheimer patients. However, subsequent scientific discourse has highlighted glaring problems with the experimental design and conduct of this clinical trial – including a high risk of bias and the lack of appropriate controls. This is a good example of the self correcting nature of science – and while this treatment still holds promise – the verdict on its efficacy in humans is still out.
  • MouseLight helps researchers unravel secrets of the brain. Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus have created a 3D map of 300 mouse neurons, with the aim of adding another 700 in 2018. However, even this feat only scratches the surface of the 70 million neurons typically found in a mouse’s brain. Scientists injected a virus into the brains of mice which would infect a few cells and cause them to produce fluorescent proteins; they then imaged the brain with high-resolution microscopes and turned the resulting images into 3D computer models. They found many of the axons (slender projections of the neuron) were up to half a metre in length and stretched into unexpected regions of the brain, for example the neurons associated with taste also stretched into areas controlling movement and touch. More information on the project is available on the MouseLight website.

Brain of mouse lit up by MouseLight, Image Credit MouseLight

  • Tail regeneration in gecko and spinal cord injury. Lizard tails are an extension of their spinal cord and they have the ability to regenerate their tails, and thus spinal cords, when a section becomes detached. Researchers at University of Guelph have identified a special type of stem cell — the radial glial cell —  which allows geckos to regenerate their tail whenever it is detached and make a brand new portion of the spinal cord. Unlike geckos, humans do not have the radial glial cells and often make scar tissue following spinal cord injury rather than growing new cells. This specific research and related projects may one day help humans, and other mammals, to regenerate spinal cords  — which is not currently possible. This research was published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology.
  • Donor organs created by rebuilding pig livers. We have previously written about the use of genetically modified pigs and their valuable role in attenuating the organ crisis here. Now, a new method which uses pig organs as a scaffold for new organs – gives further promise to an end of the organ crisis. This method involves using a pig organ, dissolving the cells away from it, leaving the organ’s protein scaffold intact. Then, the scaffold is re-infused with human cells creating a “human organ” with a pig scaffold. This approach is promising because it reduces the likelihood of organ rejection. This research was presented at a meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Washington DC this month.