Tag Archives: FASEB

FASEB Hosts Briefing on Canine Research

On November 17, 2015, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) sponsored a congressional briefing highlighting the role that canines play in advancing both human and dog health.  Attended by Congressional staffers and other stakeholder, the briefing highlighted three panelists who described how studying naturally occurring diseases in dogs improves our understanding of corresponding human diseases.

Timothy Nichols, MD, Director of the Francis Owen Blood Research Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill opened the briefing by discussing his research on hemophilia, a rare blood disorder where sufferers lack clotting factors and have uncontrollable bleeding.  Some dogs, like humans, are genetically prone to hemophilia and have been instrumental in learning more about the disease and  in  identifying new treatments of hemophilia for dogs and humans.  Many of the therapies available to humans have been developed in susceptible dog breeds, and more therapies are currently being tested. For example, Dr. Nichols explained that dogs treated with gene therapy have been disease free for over seven years.  He hopes that this treatment can soon be applied to humans.

Beagle in research

Following Dr. Nichols was Amy LeBlanc, DVM, DACVIM, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Program.  Dr. LeBlanc oversees clinical trials where pet dogs with naturally occurring cancers are enrolled in studies through the Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium to test new treatment paradigms.  Results from treating dog patients are used to help inform trials with analogous human cancers.  Dr. LeBlanc noted that dogs are a great model for studying cancer relevant to humans because dogs are outbred, exposed to the same environment and stresses, and have genetic profiles similar to humans.  Additionally, dogs are immune-competent and cancer metastasis occurs in a comparable manner to humans.

Elaine Ostrander, PhD, Chief of the Cancer Genetics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, discussed her research studying the canine genome.  Using DNA samples of pure-bred dogs supplied by pet owners, breeders, and veterinarians, Ostrander’s laboratory identifies the genetic basis for specific traits.  For example, studying the genetic profile of dogs with short legs (e.g., corgis, dachshunds) led to the understanding that a specific gene is responsible for an excess of a specific growth factor resulting in an inhibition of cartilage forming cells, slowed bone growth, and shortened legs.  Identifying of this gene may help researchers address growth conditions in humans.

During the question and answer period, the panelists were asked a number of questions by audience members. The importance of using the correct animal model for the scientific question being asked was highlighted and emphasized by Dr. Nichols’ response, “hemophiliac mice don’t bleed, dogs do.” When the panelists questioned whether animal models of disease were becoming more important in studying human disease, there was an emphatic “absolutely” by all speakers.

FASEB Briefing - Animal Research Saves Lives - Facts on Dogs

To coincide with the briefing, the Federation also released a new canine research factsheet (partially pictured above) detailing the ways in which research with dogs has improved human and canine health and the many ways in which it is regulated. The factsheet and other educational materials were distributed to attendees—including congressional staffers—and can be found on FASEB’s website.

Often, congressional offices hear about animal research only from those who are against it.  These briefings allow for researchers to speak directly to the staff of influential lawmakers and explain the importance of animal models in biomedical and biological research. These types of outreach events are crucial in helping to dispel the myths perpetuated by those opposed to animal research.

Speaking of Research

Unpleasant Truths vs Comforting Lies

Scientists use animals  in research to elucidate basic questions about biological function in health and disease.  Such basic research in the life sciences, like parallel studies in other fields of science, yields knowledge about nature.  Such knowledge, in turn, can be applied to a myriad of problems to alleviate suffering, improve our well-being, and make this a better world.  Our students at UCSF provide this wonderful example of how our work leads to progress and make a solid case for why the public and our government should support basic research:

In contrast, those that oppose the use of animals in medical research find comfort in lies. They deride the work as being “curiosity-driven research” that merely results in “knowledge for knowledge sake”.  They believe basic research is without any value at best, and fraudulent at worst.  In doing so, such activists highlight their lack of knowledge about science in general and about who scientists are as individuals.

Sadly, such grotesque views on basic research is just one of the many comforting lies that form a part of the animal-rights belief system which can be readily summarized in the following form:

comforting lies

To learn more about the role of animal research in advancing human and veterinary medicine, and the threat posed to this progress by the animal rights lobby, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

FASEB Excellence in Science Award for Stem Cell Pioneer

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) is one of the world’s largest and most influential scientific organizations, representing 23 independent scientific societies and over 90,000 individual scientists. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that FASEB also takes a keen interest in educating and informing the public about the value and achievements of biomedical research. Every year FASEB presents the Excellence in Science Award to ‘recognize outstanding achievement by women in biological science’, and this year the award has been given to Professor Gail Martin of the University of California, San Fransisco, principally for discoveries she made in mice.

Professor Gail Martin, stem cell pioneer and winner of the FASEB Excellence in Science award. Image courtesy of UCSF.

Gail Martin was the first scientist to isolate embryonic stem cells, a term she coined, from the mouse embryo and culture them in vitro in 1981, and demonstrated that when injected into a mouse these cells formed a type of tumor known as a teratoma (1).  The production of a teratoma was very significant since these tumors contain normal cells from all three of the germ layers that give rise to every tissue in our bodies, so their presence confirmed that the cells were pluripotent. This seminal study, along with the nearly simultaneous discovery by Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman that pluripotent stem cells derived from the mouse embryo could be grown in the  mouse uterus, paved the way for the whole field of embryonic stem cell research and more recently the development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

Gail Martin’s research continues to focus on the mechanisms that control early embryonic development in mice, chickens and zebrafish, with a particular focus on the role of the Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) family of signaling molecules. Her work is an example of basic research at its best. Mutations in FGF receptors are associated with more than a dozen congenital bone disorders (2), and it is through understanding of the fundamental processes involved in controlling development that we will be able to design effective treatments for these disorders.

We congratulate Professor Martin on this award, an award that highlights a career that has contributed a great deal to our understanding of life.

Gail Martin was not the only one to be honored last week, on Sunday our own Professor David Jentsch received the Joseph Cochin Young Investigator award by the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD). The CPDD is the largest and oldest organization for the scientific study of drug dependence and addictions in the US, whose members have made great contributions to the treatment of drug dependence, and is a World Health Organization collaborating centre for research and training.  Every year the CPDD awards the Joseph Cochin Young Investigator award to an investigator under the age of 40 in recognition of their research contributions to the field of drug abuse, and this award emphasises the importance of the David’s work to future progress in treating drug addictions.

J. David Jentsch, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA.

Well done to David from all your friends at Speaking of Research!

Paul Browne

  1. Martin G.R. “Isolation of a pluripotent cell line from early mouse embryos cultured in medium conditioned by teratocarcinoma stem cells.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Volume 78(12), Pages 7634-7638 (1981). PubMed Central: PMC349323
  2. Chen L. and Deng C.X. “Roles of FGF signaling in skeletal development and human genetic diseases” Front Biosci. Volume 1;10, Pages 1961-1976 (2005). PubMed: 15769677

Magic Bullets and Monoclonals: A Breakthrough in Bioscience

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) is one of the world’s largest and most influential scientific organizations, representing as it does 23 independent scientific societies and over 90,000 individual scientists.  As a coalition that represents tens of thousands of US medical researchers FASEB has policies and positions on all kinds of issues which affect scientific research, from federal funding of research to the legal status of embryonic stem cells and human cloning, and you will probably not be altogether surprised to learn that FASEB has taken a very strong position in support of animal research and the scientists who undertake it.

FASEB also takes its responsibility to educate and inform members of the public about the role of biomedical research very seriously and has produced the excellent Breakthroughs in Bioscience, a series of essays written with the help of leading scientists on the research that led to important advances in medicine. While these essays do not of course focus solely on the role of animals in research, key discoveries have after all been made through approaches as disparate as clinical observations and X-ray crystallography,  they do illustrate how important animal research has been as an integral and frequently vital part of the research process.

The most recent essay entitled Magic Bullets and Monoclonals: An Antibody Tale is a great example of this;  I would encourage anyone who is interested in finding out how the role of antibodies in the immune system was first uncovered and how this eventually lead to the development of these “magic bullets” to read it.

A couple of years ago I wrote on the Pro-Test blog about the role of animal research in the development of the monoclonal antibody drug Lucentis that is used to treat the wet form of age-related macular degeneration, a common form of blindness , but it is only one example out of many.  The Breakthroughs in Bioscience essay focuses on the development other monoclonal antibody drugs including Rituximab, a treatment for cancers of the immune system such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, infliximab, a treatment for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and trastuzumab, better known as Herceptin and used to treat breast cancer. While the essay discusses how animals were vital to the production of these monoclonal antibody drugs, the contribution of animal research to the development of these treatments went far beyond just that, as the following two examples illustrate.

Herceptin (1) targets the HER2/neu receptor, a protein whose normal function is to regulate the growth of cells but which is produced in excess in some breast cancers where it promotes tumor growth. HER2 was first discovered to have a role in cancer through studies of cancer in rats and mice, and scientists following up on this discovery then found that it was over-produced in some breast cancers.  Subsequently research in transgenic mice enabled scientists to understand how HER2 promoted tumor growth, while xenograft models where  immunodeficient mice wre injected with  of HER2 positive human breast cancer cells were used to screen candidate monoclonal antibodies, eventually identifying the antibody that was taken into successful human trials as trastuzumab.

The story was similar for infliximab, which works by blocking the action of a chemical messenger called Tumour Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) that promotes inflammation and is a key factor in the development of several autoimmune disorders.  Studies in rodents and dogs played a key role in the isolation and identification of TNF-alpha, and in subsequently animal research that demonstrated its role in both the normal immune system and in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. This work included studies in transgenic mice which provided the definitive evidence that TNF-alpha plays a crucial role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis , which formed the basis for studies which demonstrated that a chimeric human/mouse monoclonal antibody against TNF-alpha could protect transgenic mice which produced human TNF-alpha from inflammation-induced cachexia (2). Follow up studies in transgenic mice expressing human TNF-alpha provided important pre-clinical information about the safety of infleximab (3).

The examples above show just how important animal research is to both basic research which seeks to understand what is going on in normal physiology and disease, and translational research which seeks to take that knowledge and apply it to developing treatments that can be used effectively in the clinic.  We’re delighted by the work that FASEB is doing to ensure that the public is aware of how all types of research contribute to medical progress, and hope that they continue these efforts for many years to come.

Paul Browne

1)      Pegram M. and Ngo D. “Application and potential limitations of animal models utilized in the development of trastuzumab (HerceptinR): A case study”  Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews Volume 58, Pages 723-734 (2006) DOI:10.1016/j.addr.2006.05.003

2)      Siegel S.A. et al. “The Mouse/Human Chimeric Monoclonal Antibody cA2 Neutralizes TNF In Vitro and Protects Transgenic Mice from Cachexia and TNF Lethality In Vivo” Cytokine Volume 7(1), Pages 15-25 (1995) DOI:10.1006/cyto.1995.1003

3)      European Medicines Agency report http://www.ema.europa.eu/humandocs/PDFs/EPAR/Remicade/190199en6.pdf