Tag Archives: mice

Research Roundup: Monkeys and face recognition, animals advance AI, sugar to treat heart 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.

  • New study challenges our current understanding of how the brain recognizes faces. We can often pick out a face or a person in a crowd (e.g., finding Wally/Waldo), but the cellular mechanism via which this occurs has remained poorly understood. Using rhesus macaques, these researchers investigated which neuronal cells are responsible for facial recognition. By varying aspects of the face systematically (e.g., shape, distance between the eyes) and measuring 205 neurons in 2 animals, researchers found that each neuron responded to a specific combination of facial parameters rather than the face itself, using fMRI. In other words “the neuron is not a face detector, it’s a face analyser”, says Leopold. The brain “is able to realize that there are key dimensions that allow one to say that this is Person A and this is Person B.” Subsequent replication and extension using more subjects is warranted, but these findings provide an exciting new avenue of research with regards to face processing. This research was published in the journal Cell.

    Macaque. Source: Kathy West. CNPRC.

  • Researchers are using animal cognition to make advances in artificial intelligence.  Harvard assistant professor David Cox and his team are studying the rat visual cortex by training rats to play a complex object discrimination video game. While the rats are learning the video game, a 2 photon excitation microscope images neural activity in the visual cortex. These images are then used in conjunction with microscopic images of brain tissue slices to make digital maps of of the visual cortex. The hope is that these neural circuits could become maps for artificial neural networks and next generation artificial intelligence. Check out this video on “How to Digitize a Rat Brain”!
  • Artificial intelligence system detects pain levels in sheep. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system which uses five different facial expressions to recognize whether a sheep is in pain, and to estimate pain severity. Building on earlier work which teaches computers to recognize emotions and expressions in human faces, Dr. Krista McLennan developed the Sheep Pain Facial Expression Scale (SPFES) in 2016, which can recognize pain with high accuracy. In the current study, Dr. Peter Robinson and colleagues developed machine learning techniques to reduce the time required for humans to learn to use SPFES, as well as the confounds of human bias in interpreting facial expressions. Researchers trained the AI model with a small dataset of about 500 photographs of sheep, and early tests showed that the model could estimate pain levels with about 80% degree of accuracy, indicating the system is learning. The next steps for the researchers will be to train the system to detect and recognize sheep faces from moving images, and to train it to work when the sheep are in profile. Ultimately, this research will lead to better pain detection and faster medical attention. The research was presented June 1 at the IEEE International Conference on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition in Washington, DC.

    Face detection in sheep. Source: Liu et al., 2017, University of Cambridge

  • Lifelong protection from allergies a possibility? When your body comes into contact with a foreign particle, for example, pollen, your immune system kicks into play, producing antibodies (Immunoglobulin E). These antibodies travel to these foreign cells, attempt to “neutralize” them and in this process – triggers an allergic reaction. In order to quickly identify and mount a response to foreign particles that your body has encountered before, the body uses “memory” T cells. However, in some cases, this “memory” may be an “overreaction” of the system and once this “memory” is formed it is virtually impossible to be removed. In the present study using
    mice
    , researchers tackled this issue and were able to desensitize these memory cells which overreact to allergens using therapeutic gene transfer. Approximately 50 million American suffer from some form of allergic disease and this research, which is in pre-clinical trials, provides some hope of treatment. This study was published in the journal JCI Insight.

  • Type of sugar may treat atherosclerosis, mouse study shows. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis worked with mice prone to atherosclerosis, clogged arteries due to the buildup of plaque, and found that when injecting trehalose, a natural sugar, the immune system “cleans up” this plaque.  Babak Razani, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine, and his colleagues showed that trehalose activates TFEB, a molecule that then.goes into the nucleus of macrophages and binds to DNA. This turns on specific genes and leads to additional organelles that act as “housekeeping machinery.”  Babak says, “Trehalose is not just enhancing the housekeeping machinery that’s already there,” Razani said. “It’s triggering the cell to make new machinery..”  Trehalose is a mild sweetener and FDA approved for human consumption.  Plaque degradation is not seen when administered orally.  Researchers hope to study trehalose as a potential therapy for atherosclerosis in hopes to find a way to protect its  housekeeping properties when given orally.

    Cross section of mouse aorta with a large plaque. Source: Ismail Sergin

 

 

 

Research Roundup: 3D printed ovaries, social ties and longevity, a new bone regeneration therapy, 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.

  • 3D printed ovaries produce healthy offspring in mice. In a proof of principle experiment, scientists have succeeded in removing and replacing a mouse’s ovary with a bioprosthetic replacement. These 3D printed ovaries housed immature mouse eggs, permitting the mice to ovulate and to also give birth to healthy pups. These mice were also able to successfully nurse their pups.The 3D printed ovaries were made of gelatin and is safe to use in humans. This research is highly applicable to “women who have undergone adult cancer treatments or those who survived childhood cancer and now have increased risks of infertility and hormone-based developmental issues.” This paper was published in Nature communications.

  • New study investigating how the brain encodes fear memory could lead to novel therapeutics aimed at reducing pathological fear in PTSD. Using mice, a tracing method which highlights neurons in the brain in different colors, electrophysical and optogenetic methods — these researchers that as much as 17% of neurons projecting to the hippocampus also projected to the amygdala and the mPFC. The authors explained “that the acquisition (encoding) and retrieval of contextual fear memory requires coordinated neural activity in the hippocampus, amygdala and mPFC. The hippocampus encodes context cues, the amygdala stores associations between a context and an aversive event, and the mPFC signals whether a defensive response is appropriate in the present context.” This study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
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Mouse hippocampal neuron projections. Source: Journal of Neuroscience.

  • A simple blood test detects radiation exposure in nonhuman primates. A report in the Science Translational Medicine describes how levels of three microRNAs (miRNAs, which are small non-coding RNA molecules found in plants and animals that regulate gene expression) can be detected in blood and other bodily fluids with 100% accuracy. Two other miRNAs can predict whether the radiation exposure will be fatal. This new development could help triage victims of nuclear disasters, like the one in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. The assay could be deployed in the field with limited expertise or equipment.
  • Large families and strong social ties help animals live longer. A large study of a naturalistic population of rhesus monkeys on an island off of Puerto Rico shows that adult monkeys with more relatives in their social network have a better life expectancy. Rhesus monkeys live in matriarchal societies, meaning that families are formed around adult females and their offspring and other relatives. By examining demographic data on over 900 monkeys across a 21 year period, researchers found that each extra female relative reduced a prime-aged female macaque’s chances of dying in one year by 2.3%. Because humans and rhesus monkeys shared a common ancestor about 25 million years ago, “we can take clues from these distant cousins about how humans might have existed in pre-industrial societies,” said Dr. Laurent Brent, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and Lecturer at the University of Exeter and lead author on the study. “Human societies are hugely complex, and factors such as culture and access to healthcare make it hard to study the impact of a single factor like social relationships on survival.” The study was published on Tuesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Rhesus Macaques - Laurent Brent

Rhesus monkey family on Cayo Santiago (Puerto Rico). Source: Lauren Brent.

  • Breakthrough findings in bone marrow transplants, melanoma and anemia thanks to zebrafish. Zebrafish are important models for studying human disease. Dr. Leonard Zon, a researcher at Harvard University, is studying blood diseases and cancer. The embryos are transparent so that organ development can be visualized as it happens. Another advantage is that the mothers have many eggs allowing the study of the genetics of blood diseases and cancer that are passed on within families. This provides the ability to find similar genes in humans that cause those diseases. His work has led to two drugs now treating patients. One increases stem cells to help bone marrow transplant patients and the other treats patients with metastatic melanoma. A third drug is now in clinical trials with hopes to help people with a very rare type of anemia.
  • A new link in the gut-brain axis has been identified. A study in mice found that bacteria in the gut are implicated in cerebral cavernous malformations (CCMs), brain defects that occur in as many as one in 100 people. These malformations are blood-filled bubbles that protrude from veins in the brain and can leak or burst at any time. The researchers discovered that Gram-negative bacteria, which are typically found in the gut, accelerate CCM formation, particularly in animals that increase the expression of a certain gene, toll-like receptor 4 (or TLR4). A single course of antibiotics permanently altered CCM susceptibility in mice. This research identified unexpected roles for the microbiome, and is among the first to provide convincing evidence that these bacteria may initiate diseases in seemingly unrelated organs. The study was published on Wednesday in Nature.

Mice in a Cage

  • After decades of research, lab-grown blood stem cells have been produced providing  “hope to people with leukaemia and other blood disorders who need bone-marrow transplants but can’t find a compatible donor.” Using standard methods, these researchers transformed cells into induced iPS cells. They next inserted seven transcription factors  into the genome of of the iPS cells. Injecting these modified human cells into mice. Twelve weeks later these cells had transformed into “progenitor cells capable of making the range of cells found in human blood, including immune cells.” This research was published in the journal Nature.
  • A new gene therapy method for bone regeneration has been developed to serve as an alternative to bone grafts. Currently bone graft technology leaves many patients with fracture nonunions; where fractures are repaired but fail to fully heal. Furthermore, patients are often lead to long-term hospitalization and repeated surgeries. However, a promising gene therapy solution has been developed in mini-pigs, a clinically relevant large animal model. Researchers implanted a collagen scaffold into a critical-sized bone fracture of mini-pigs to recruit endogenous bone stem cells. Two weeks later bone morphogenetic protein-6 (BMP-6) DNA and microbubbles were injected into the fractures. This lead to bone regeneration and fracture healing over 6 weeks. This minimally invasive method shows great promise for human translation. This study was published in the Journal Science Translational Medicine
    Bone regen

    Gene therapy for bone regeneration. Source: M. Bez et al., Science Translational Medicine (2017)


Research Roundup: An artificial womb for preemie lambs, umbilical cord protein enhances cognition, smartphones to control 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.

  • An artificial womb has successfully kept premature lambs alive. Extreme prematurity — infants born at 22 to 23 weeks gestation — is a leading cause of infant mortality, and infants who do survive often have serious disabilities like cerebral palsy or major cognitive deficits. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania have developed a first-of-its kind artificial womb that mimics the uterine environment, and have found in studies of lambs that this womb allows the premature lambs to grow normally inside the womb for 3-4 weeks. The thought is that treating the preemies more like fetuses than newborns by extending normal gestation may give them a better chance of survival. The artificial womb, pictured below, is a fluid-filled transparent container that simulates how fetuses float in amniotic fluid inside the mother’s uterus. The womb is attached to a mechanical placenta that keeps blood oxygenated for the fetus. Over the four weeks of study, the lamb fetuses grew to open their eyes, grow wool, breathe, and swim. Human trials are still several years away, though the research team is already in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration. The study was published in Nature Communications and is freely available for download.

  • New research finds that at least one third of all gut nerve cells are replaced weekly. The gut contains the second largest nervous system in the body, the enteric nervous system. Similarly to the number of viable eggs that a woman is born with, it was a once held scientific belief that the gut nerve cells we’re born with are the same ones that we die with. Using healthy adult you mice, and a variety of modern techniques, this study confirmed previous research findings of ongoing neuronal cell loss because of apoptosis (cell death) — although total neuronal numbers remain constant. This observed neuronal homeostasis was found to be maintained from dividing precursor cells that are located within myenteric ganglia. Mutation of these adult precursors led to an increase in enteric neuronal number, resulting in ganglioneuromatosis, modeling the corresponding disorder in humans. Since gut nerve cells were thought to remain unchanged across time, it has limited our understanding and treatment of diseases which affect the gut. These results “enable a new understanding of the pathogenesis of enteric neuromuscular diseases as well as the development of novel regenerative therapies.” This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • A new study finds that protein found in human blood makes mice smarter. Previous research investigating the effects of young blood on aging animals has generally focused on within (same) species comparisons. In this study, researchers investigated the role of a human umbilical cord plasma and its effects on aged mice — in particular with respect to hippocampus and behavioral measures of cognition. These particular measures were investigated as impairment is observed in older individuals. They found that human plasma, injected in mice, was associated with revitalization of the hippocampus with increased levels of gene expression there. Additionally, they found that behavioral measures of cognition were also improved. The protein tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases 2 (TIMP2), was found to be implicated with these positive changes. This study has been published in Nature.

    hippocampus

    Schematic of the hippocampus. Source.

  • The European Ombudsman rejected a complaint by the “Stop Vivisection” European Citizens Initiative that they had not received adequate reasoning behind the decision by the European Commission to reject the initiative in July 2015. “Stop Vivisection” wanted to repeal the European animal research regulation, Directive 2010/63/EU and replace it with a proposal to speed a ban on such practices. The ombudsman noted that the Commission has complied with its duty to explain, in a clear, comprehensible and detailed manner, its position and political choices regarding the objectives of the ECI “Stop Vivisection””.
  • A new study uses your smartphone to control symptoms of diabetes. In a good example of multi-disciplinary translational medicine, and using “a multidisciplinary design principle coupling electrical engineering, software development, and synthetic biology” researchers based at the Shanghai Key Laboratory of Regulatory Biology “engineered a technological infrastructure enabling smartphone-assisted semiautomatic treatment of diabetes in mice.” Hydrogel capsules, containing cells that could produce “mouse insulin” in vivo and which contained wirelessly powered infrared LEDs were implanted in mice. Smartphones were then used to control this implant causing it to secrete “mouse insulin” as needed. Researchers were able to maintain glucose homeostasis over several weeks in the diabetic mice. This study provides a step toward translating cell-based therapies into the clinic. It also highlights that even though this technique was developed in vitro, safety and efficacy trials in animals are needed before they can be used in humans. This study was published in the journal Science.
Apr27_2017_ShanghaiKeyLabOfRegulatoryBiology_DiabeticMouseSmartPhone2447847722.jpg

Photo courtesy of Shanghai Key Laboratory of Regulatory Biology

Research Roundup: March for Science, promising headway in stem cell treatments, new treatment for cystic fibrosis 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.

  • On Saturday April 22nd, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march in defense of science in cities around the world, including Washington DC, London, Paris. Toronto, Berlin and more. Speaking of Research has a history of holding rallies in defense of science, and we wish those who are attending events on Saturday the very best of luck. With science funding in many countries under threat, it is important that we all stand up and be counted.

SR-March

 “The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”
https://www.marchforscience.com/
#MarchforScience

  • Stem cell treatment and transplant shows vision and promise. Using induced pluripotent stem cells, a Japanese man is the first human to receive reprogrammed stem cells from another human being as a means of treating macular degeneration — a form of blindness that affects 1% of all humans over the age of 50. Before this procedure made its way to humans, safety and efficacy trials in mice (.e.g., 1,2,3) and non-human primates were undertaken (e.g., 1,2,3) — although it is worth emphasizing that some have raised concerns about the stringency of Japanese preclinical regulatory process. Takahashi, the lead scientist behind this trial, stated that the surgery has gone well, but that success cannot be declared without further monitoring the fate of the transplanted cells.

    SR-StemCells

    Somatic stem cells exist naturally in the body. They are important for growth, healing, and replacing cells that are lost daily through wear and tear.  Source: University of Utah

  • A new study finds that exposure to low doses of antibiotics early in life can have long term consequences on behaviour in mice. Adding to a growing body of literature, this study found that low but clinically relevant doses of penicillin administered prenatally in mice can lead to lasting effects in both sexes on gut microbiota, immune functioning, and alters anxiety-like, social and aggressive behaviour. Concurrent supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus JB-1 via drinking water prevented some of these alterations — potentially via alterations to the vagus nerve. Subsequent replication and extension of these findings needs to be undertaken, particularly in regards to the length of exposure and when exposure occurs (early or later in gestation or even postnatally). The authors of this study concluded that “these results warrant further studies on the potential role of early-life antibiotic use in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders, and the possible attenuation of these by beneficial bacteria.” This study was published in Nature Communications.
    SR-miceantibiotics
  • Humane endpoints for zebrafish released on the Humane Endpoint website at Utrecht University in English, Dutch and German. “A humane endpoint is the earliest indicator in an animal experiment of pain or distress in the animal. Researchers can use these indicators to avoid or limit pain and distress in laboratory animals.” Zebrafish are a commonly used as laboratory species and, for example, in the Netherlands, an average of 5000 experiments are performed on zebrafish each year. Consistent with the 3Rs, these guidelines contribute the refinement aspect of the 3Rs “since it teaches scientists, animal technicians and animal caretakers how to prevent unnecessary pain and distress in laboratory animals.” Access to this website is free and for further details on who can and how to access all content can be found here.

    Zebrafish_Sanger

    Zebrafish: Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

  • Vaccination of prairie dogs planned in an effort to save the black footed ferret. Black footed ferrets are members of the weasel family and were brought to the brink of extinction in the 1960s due to habitat destruction. By the 1980s it was estimated that only 18 remained. Due to conservation efforts, there are now approximately 300 of these ferrets in the wild and a further 300 in captive breeding facilities. Approximately 90% of the diet of these ferrets are comprised of prairie dogs. However, because of the Sylvatic plague, prairie dogs living in the habitats of the black footed ferret are now in danger of being decimated and spreading this disease to the ferrets that eat them. To combat this problem, wildlife conservationists such as the USGS National Wildlife Center are planning to a vaccination campaign in specific habitats of the black footed ferret. This is a great example of the reach of biomedical research with vaccinations developed in animals being used to save other animals.
  • Potential new treatment for cystic fibrosis found. Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease that leads to persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe. In particular, it affects the Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. In addition, it can prevent the pancreas from releasing digestive enzymes due to the buildup of mucus. It affects approximately 70,000 people worldwide. These researchers investigated whether thymosin alpha 1 (Ta1) — a naturally occurring protein with an excellent safety profile in the clinic — can rectify some of the multiple tissue defects associated with cystic fibrosis. Using inbred mice, they found that this protein leads to reduced inflammation and increased CFTR maturation, stability, and activity — indicating that Ta1 has a strong potential to be a single-molecule therapeutic agent to treat and stop the progression of cystic fibrosis. This study was published in Nature Medicine.
SR-CF

Image courtesy of National Library of Medicne

Research Roundup: A new approach to treating Parkinson’s, designer pig organs, the benefits of dragon blood, 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.

  • Scientists may have discovered a new way to treat Parkinson’s disease (PD), a devastating neurological disease that causes tremors, rigid muscles, and changes in speech. In PD, a person’s brain cells (neurons) die causing a reduction in the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Researchers in Sweden were able to reprogram human astrocytes – brain cells that normally support the functions of neurons – to behave more like dopamine producing neurons. They did this by bathing the astrocytes in a petri dish in a number of molecules that affect changes in the cell’s DNA. This proof of concept allowed researchers to take the next step and try this therapy in a mouse model of PD. Injecting the same cocktail of molecules into the brains of PD mice caused the astrocytes to become more like the dopamine producing neurons, and this change lessened the PD symptoms in the mice. Obviously, many more studies are needed before this potential therapy can be tried in human patients with PD, but this is an exciting advancement in our quest to treat this disease. This research was published in Nature Biotechnology.
animal testing, animal research, vivisection, animal experiment

Mice were key to this Parkinson’s breakthrough

  • A new study finds that a reovirus may be implicated in the development of celiac disease. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten, leads to damage of the small intestine. Gluten is found in many common foods, and is the general name for wheat derived proteins. “It affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, and 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications”. Mice, were infected orally with two derived forms of a human reovirus, T1L and T3D; both capable of infecting the hosts` intestine but affecting its functioning in different ways. They found that while mice were able to successfully clear the virus from the system; exposure to the virus can disrupt intestinal homeostasis, lead to a loss of oral tolerance to the antigens produced by the body, and promote immunopathology similar to the symptoms of celiac disease. This study will of course need to replicated and further research investigating other reoviruses and the subsequent link to the development of celiac diseases firmly established. This study, using mice, does however, provide hope for the millions of individuals suffering from celiac disease and if a strong link to reoviruses is established; can lead to the development of a vaccination. The research was published in Science.
  • A promising vaccination for Zika virus has been found, reducing the occurrence of congenital abnormalities in mice. Zika virus is an emergent global health threat, that is transmitted by mosquito bites and more recently it has been discovered that it can be passed on via sex with an infected person. The most debilitating effects of the virus are death in the young and elderly are with compromised immune systems and perhaps most strikingly birth defects — in particular, microcephaly; a sign of incomplete brain development. For the first time, these researchers tested a live attenuated version of the Zika virus in mice. In comparison to an inactivated vaccine, live attenuated vaccinations have the advantage of single-dose immunization, rapid and robust immune response, and potentially long-lived protection. They found that this live attenuated vaccination was able to confer sterilizing immunity (complete protection from infection), a robust T-cell immune response, and a promising safety profile; similar to that of other clinically approved vaccinations. This study was published in Nature Medicine.

Illustration of a baby with microcephaly (left) compared to a baby with a typical head size

  • A new study finds that the human body’s peripheral nervous system could be capable of interpreting its environment and modulating pain. The sensation and perception of pain has historically been associated with the brain and the spinal cord (central nervous system(CNS)) and drugs for pain target the CNS. However, these drugs sometimes lead to unintended side effects such as addiction and tolerance. Drugs which target the peripheral system may allows us to avoid these unintended side effects. Using mice, these researchers demonstrated that the peripheral nervous system was able to interpret the type of stimulation it was sensing, although further research is needed to figure out how these sensations are interpreted by the brain. While further replication and validation is needed, this study widens our view of pain, its sensation and potential means of treatment. This study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

  • Luhan Yang, Chief Scientific Officer at eGenesis, is working to create ‘designer pigs’ which could be used to help alleviate the organ crisis. By inserting up to 12 human genes into pig ova they hope to overcome the rejection problems which currently prevent xenotransplantation from providing viable organs for human use. Yang hopes the use of the gene-editing technique CRISPR will make it possible to create human-animal hybrid organs that can be used to save lives.

  • New study finds that variant of protein in komodo dragon blood (VK25) contains antimicrobials that may one day form the basis of a new antibiotic. Researchers at George Mason University synthesized a new molecule,DRGN-1, based on a peptide found in the blood of the Indonesian lizard. This molecule was shown to promote healing in mice with wounds infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. This synthetic compound also made these bacteria cell membrane more permeable – making it easier to kill these bacteria. The research was published in Biofilms and Microbiomes

Research Roundup: Fighting antibiotic resistance with maple syrup, epigenetic effects from light and diet, and HPV vaccine success

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.

  • New research finds that phenolic extract from maple syrup may boost antibiotic action. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise, with at least 2 million people becoming infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics each year. Producing antibiotics to fight these “superbugs” is proving to be extremely difficult with the first new antibiotic being discovered in thirty years occurring in 2016. Researchers, learning of the anti-cancer properties of maple syrup, decided to investigate its antimicrobial properties. By mixing the syrup’s phenolic compounds — which gives syrup its characteristic golden color with the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and carbenicillin, they found the same antimicrobial effect with less than 90 percent of the antibiotic. They then tested the extract in fruit flies and moth larvae and found a similar effect. Further experiments are now planned in mice and the researchers are hopeful that one day this extract will be turned into a widely available, plant-based medicine.
  • Parental exposure to dim light at night may lead to a decreased immune response in offspring — Researchers at the Ohio State University exposed male and female adult hamsters to either a standard light/dark cycle or one with dim light at night for nine weeks. Offspring with parent(s) that experienced dim light exposure had an impaired immune response and decreased endocrine activity compared to offspring from standard light exposure parents. What is most interesting is that these epigenetic effects were transferred from the sperm and/or egg, and they were independent of light exposure in utero. The study suggests further research into light exposure at night from sources such as tablets, phones, and TVs should be done in humans.
  • A new study using mice finds that paternal diet affects offspring cognitive ability. Increasing evidence suggests that offspring development is not only impacted my maternal factors, such as the mother’s diet, but also by factors that the father has been exposed to. Epigenetic modification of germline cells has been implicated as one major causal pathway for the transmission of such changes to the offspring. In the present study, one group of male mice were fed a diet containing nutrients required for methyl group metabolism — methionine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, betaine and zinc, while another group was fed a standard diet of lab chow. After six weeks on the respective diets, the male mice were mated with female mice, and the offspring tested on a series of learning and memory tasks. The offspring of the male mice fed with methyl donors performed less well in all learning and memory tests. Related changes were also observed with poor activity in the hippocampus (associated with learning and memory) and downregulation of a gene associated with neuroplasticity. The study has implications for countries such as the USA, where dietary supplementation is prevalent.
animal testing, animal research, vivisection, animal experiment

Research mouse being held

  • A new function for the cerebellum has been found — the encoding of expectation of reward. The cerebellum accounts for approximately 10% of the brain volume, but contains more than 50% of its neurons. The cerebellum is often thought to function outside the realm of consciousness, being primarily involved in motor function and processing sensory input. The present study used genetically modified mice that expressed a green fluorescent protein (GFP) and photon microscopy. Scientists trained mice to push a lever to obtain a sugared reward. They found that one set of cells in the cerebellum fired when the mice pushed the lever (motor response), another set fired when the mice were waiting for the reward to arrive (cognitive response in regard to expected event) and third group fired when the reward was removed entirely (cognitive response in regard to unexpected event). This study challenges the current way of thinking about the role of the cerebellum and highlights how more research is needed to further understand how structures within the brain function in an interconnected way.
  • Discovery of a gene related to congenital blindness in zebrafish may lead to a cure for similar disease in humans. One type of congenital blindness is termed Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LBA), and leads to deformed or absent rods and cones in the eyes of children — resulting in blindness. While researching blindness in zebrafish, scientist have manipulated genes associated with rods and cones, and discovered a mutant. These genetically mutated zebrafish also have degenerated cones in their eyes, similar to humans with LBA, but the rods are not affected. Future research investigating the molecular and cellular mechanisms of rod and cone development using this new animal model may lead to a possible cure in humans.

  • In the news, we sometimes hear stories about miracle drugs being created to save loved ones from debilitating diseases. Sometimes these drugs work, in part because of some previous validation in pre-clinical work using non-human animals. Other times, they result in devastating effects because they have not gone through appropriate safety trials. It is important that our readers and the public in general understand why clinical safety trials are important and have a proper understanding of the associated risks if they are not conducted.
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) has restarted animal experiments at its lab in Brussels. Work was temporarily suspended late last year after an undercover video was made by the animal rights group GAIA. The institution began both internal and external audits to assess its own processes, and they have taken various measures to further improve animal wellbeing, administration, and infrastructure – with a further €13.8m earmarked for a new animal facility in the future. The decision to restart means that 27 approved projects that were on hold can now begin.
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, provided free to girls in Scotland aged 12-13 years old has resulted in a 90% reduction in levels of the virus. HPV is believed to account for around 90% of cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccine owes much of its development and subsequent efficacy testing to animal models, including rabbits (Shope papillomavirus), cows (Bovine papillomavirus) and dogs (Canine oral papilloma virus). It is forecast that the HPV vaccine will lead to a 90% drop in cervical cancer cases in Scotland.

Jeremy Bailoo and Justin Varholick

Research Roundup: Red blood cell production in the lungs, sea urchin spines to fix bones, and trying to reverse aging in mice

Welcome to our fourth weekly roundup (now called “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.

  • new study finds that most of our blood cells are made in the lungs, not bone marrow. Using genetically modified mice that expressed a green fluorescent protein (GFP) and photon microscopy, scientists were able to track blood platelets as they circulated around the body in real time. Surprisingly, they found a large population of megakaryocytes, responsible for the production of blood cells, in the lungs. This population of megakaryocytes was found to produce upwards of 10 million platelets per hour — at least half of the body’s total platelet production. Further experiments, found another population of megakaryocytes just outside the lung tissue — about 1 million per lung. Additionally, using mice with no stem cells in the bone marrow (eliminating blood cell production there), they found that cells from the lungs migrated to and facilitated blood cell production in the bone marrow. Because of technological advances in genetic engineering and microscopy, this study challenged a decades-old assumption, central to the field of biology and medicine. This study will of course need to be replicated and assessment performed of whether these findings generalize to humans.

  • Sea urchin spines can be used to fix bones, offering a much needed refinement to the second most performed transplant procedure, after blood. Current procedures involving transplants for bone defects lead to subsequent complications as, for example, when brittle synthetic compounds break, causing further inflammation. This study therefore investigated whether the rigid structure of sea urchin spines represent a superior alternative material to currently used products. Sea urchin spines were first soaked in sodium hypochlorite for 30 min, and then rinsed in deionized water at 200C for 2 days in order to remove organic material, converting the spine to magnesium-substituted tricalcium phosphate (β-TCMP) scaffolds, while maintaining the rigidity of the original open-cell structures. When testing the material on rabbits and beagles, they found that bone cells and nutrients could flow through the pores and promote bone formation. They also found that the scaffold degraded easily as it was replaced by the new growth.

Image Credit: Lei Cao et al

  • A new study found that a population of neurons in the striatum is implicated in the Pavlovian associative learning. Pavlovian conditioning is a cornerstone of Behavioral Psychology; although the implications for subsequent research investigating links to disorders such as addiction, compulsive behavior, and schizophrenia are probably understated. In the present study, researchers exposed mice to an odor — banana or lemon — followed by a reward of condensed milk. By repeatedly pairing the odor with the reward, mice learned that a certain odor predicted a particular reward. Similar to Pavlov’s earlier experiment, the anticipation of the reward upon presentation of odor also occurred — mice licked the air — analogous perhaps to how humans lick their lips in anticipation of, for example, ice-cream. To understand how the brain regulates this response, these researchers focused on the striatum as this area has previously been associated with reward and decision making. Using optogenetics and chemogenetics, the researchers “turned-off” a tiny group of cells that support the principal neurons in the striatum. Predictably, mice with these cells turned-off only licked the air in anticipation of milk only half as often compared to baseline levels. This difference was most pronounced in mice that were first learning the odour-reward pairing and less pronounced in mice that had learned the pairing — suggesting that these cells are involved in the encoding of the Pavlovian response. This research may have further implications for other disorders as dysfunction of this group of neurons is also implicated in Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome.

  • Researchers target senescent cells, cells involved in aging, to reverse the signs of aging in mice. “This is the first time that somebody has shown that you can get rid of senescent cells without having any obvious side effects.” says cell and molecular biologist Francis Rodier of the University of Montreal in Canada. Dr. Rodier was not connected to the study.  The cells also share some properties with cancer cells.  Researchers hope to explore applications that could lead to treatments for cancer as well as age-related diseases.

The mice needed for the study are genetically predisposed to faster aging allowing researchers to evaluate their new molecule. Here we see old mice which are less active and have hair loss. Humane endpoints are especially important in these types of studies.to ensure animals do not experience unnecessary discomfort. Image Credit: Peter de Keizer

  • New drug found to alleviate symptoms associated with Type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance) in mice. Diabetes affects 29.1 million Americans (9.3% of the population) with 1.4 million new diagnoses annually. It is the 7th leading cause of death in the USA and 90% of all cases of diabetes are of the Type 2 Management of Type 2 diabetes usually involves diet management and exercise, although oral medications may be used to bring glucose levels under control. Therefore, treatments that permit an individual to gain control of their life or to limit the symptoms associated with this disease are wanting. In the present study, scientists investigated the role of low-molecular-weight protein tyrosine phosphatase (LMPTP), in vivo for the first time. Using genetically modified mice that lacked LMPTP in the whole body and specifically in the liver, they found that LMPTP is associated with the development of Type 2 diabetes — improved glucose tolerance and reduced fasting insulin levels. They next developed, in vitro, a molecule inhibitor which preferentially binds to the receptor for LMPTP — blocking its action in the body. Testing this molecule, in mice, they again similar results to the experiment where the gene for LMPTP was removed (knocked out) — improved glucose tolerance and decreased fasting insulin levels. This study provided the first evidence of the signaling role of LMPTP in regards to Type 2 diabetes — and with subsequent replication and further testing may signal new hope for the millions of individuals that suffer from Type 2 diabetes.
  • The University of Cambridge has produced a series of videos about how its researchers are using animals (and people) to treat OCD – a neuropsychiatric disorder that can have debilitating effects. The three part series tracks science journalist and OCD-sufferer, David Adam, as he goes into the research labs at Cambridge and speaks to experts working with rats, monkeys and people. The video shows animal experiments being conducted, explaining why they are necessary. This is a great example of openness by the University of Cambridge. See other examples of videos being produced by labs.

Jeremy Bailoo