Tag Archives: Parkinson’s Disease

Brain Awareness Week: The Role of Animals in Neuroscience

If you’re a regular reader of the Speaking of Research science blog you will know that we are very interested in neuroscience – in fact several of us are neuroscientists – so you won’t be surprised to learn that we have been following events during Brain Awareness Week (#brainweek on twitter).  Brain Awareness Week is a global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research that is organized every year by the Dana Foundation in partnership with over 100 research institutes, medical charities and universities around the world.

We thought it was a good opportunity to see what new resources on the use of animals in brain research are available from key organizations involved in Brain Awareness Week, and BrainFacts.org – a public information initiative whose launch we reported last May – delivered the goods. Brainfacts.org have been busy since we last reviewed their website, and their pages on animal research in neuroscience have grown into an excellent resource that covers a wide variety of topics including how animal research is planned, undertaken and regulated, and case studies of where animal research has made key contributions to advancing neuroscience.  Among the resources are articles written by neuroscientists and excellent videos.

The contribution of animal research to brain research has been highlighted by several recent media reports of important advances in brain science. These have ranged from a study in mice that demonstrated that high salt intake can increase the activity of a class or immune cells known as Th17 cells that have been implicated  in the early development autoimmune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis, to a study that showed how brain implants could enable rats to sense infra red light with great potential for the development of sensory prosthetics to complement recent advances on the control of robotic limbs, to the identification in rats of a protein that plays a key role in enabling some brain cells to survive following a stroke and may lead to new therapies.

Today there was another great piece of research (1) to report as a team of stem cell researchers at UW Madison led by Professor Su-Chun Zhang  and Professor Marina Emborg chalked up another first, demonstrating for the first time that it is possible to transplant neurons generated using iPS cell techniques from a monkey’s own skin cells into their brain, where they develop into several types of mature brain cell.

GFR labelled neuron. Image courtesy of Yan Liu and Su-Chun Zhang, Waisman Center

GFR labelled neuron. Image courtesy of Yan Liu and Su-Chun Zhang, Waisman Center

The success of this study is enormously promising for the future of personalized stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease, stroke and other brain disorders, as the report in the University of Wisconsin Madison News makes clear.

Because the cells were derived from adult cells in each monkey’s skin, the experiment is a proof-of-principle for the concept of personalized medicine, where treatments are designed for each individual.

This neuron, created in the Su-Chun Zhang lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, makes dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in normal movement. The cell originated in an induced pluripotent stem cell, which derive from adult tissues. Similar neurons survived and integrated normally after transplant into monkey brains—as a proof of principle that personalized medicine may one day treat Parkinson’s disease.

And since the skin cells were not “foreign” tissue, there were no signs of immune rejection — potentially a major problem with cell transplants. “When you look at the brain, you cannot tell that it is a graft,” says senior author Su-Chun Zhang, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Structurally the host brain looks like a normal brain; the graft can only be seen under the fluorescent microscope.”

Rhesus macaques play a key role in brain research...

Rhesus macaques play a key role in brain research…

It’s interesting to note that the development of green fluorescent protein (GFP) labelling that played a crucial role in allowing Profs. Zhang and Emborg’s team to distinguish transplanted cells from host cells in the monkey brain was made possible by research in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans , a tiny worm that itself plays a perhaps surprisingly important role neuroscience.

...as do nematode worms!

…as do nematode worms!

These discoveries and advances impact on many areas of brain research, and have the potential to benefit those suffering from a wide variety of brain diseases and injuries, so it is fitting that in Brain Awareness week we salute the researchers whose ingenuity and hard work makes them possible.

Speaking of Research

1) Marina E. Emborg, Yan Liu, Jiajie Xi, Xiaoqing Zhang, Yingnan Yin, Jianfeng Lu, Valerie Joers, Christine Swanson, James E. Holden, Su-Chun Zhang “Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Neural Cells Survive and Mature in the Nonhuman Primate Brain” Cell Reports, Published online 14 March 2013, DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2013.02.016

Big Questions, but few answers from opponents of animal research

A recent edition of the BBC1 Program called “The Big Questions” offered a brief debate on animal research. Among those discussing the issues was SR’s founder, Tom Holder. Within this post we will discuss some of the many issues which were touched upon, but barely explored in this brief debate.

Some of the questions centered on moral issues, other on scientific ones. At the beginning of the discussion Prof. John Stein of Oxford University explained his use of monkeys in studying Parkinson’s disease, after which he was asked if he would experiment on great apes.  He replied he would not, unless there was some extreme circumstance that required them.

Where would you draw the line?” — countered the host.

Let us pause for a second here. This is an important question that is worth asking. But first let us consider – and reject all the theories that do not involve drawing any lines at all.  What theories are these?

One is the Cartesian view, which posits animals do not truly suffer, do not really have emotions, and do not really have interests of their own. Consequently, the Cartesian view is that humans can use animals as we please. We do not know any living scientist or philosopher that would seriously defend this view.

The other theory that does not draw any lines is the animal rights view, in which all living beings have the same basic rights to freedom and life as a normal human. Although most members of the public reject this view as making no sense at all, nobody in the panel cared to explain, nor did the host bother to ask, what justifies this stance.

What Prof. Stein articulated as a justification was a version of something called the sliding scale model.  Here, the moral weight of a living being’s interests depends on the individual’s degree of cognitive, affective and social complexity. Where we draw the line for different types of experiments in animals is a valid and important question, but we can only ask it that if we all agree with the notion of graded moral status.

Opponents of research reject such a theory.  Alistair Currie, from PeTA, stated:

Suffering is suffering.  We have a moral obligation not to impose it on anybody.”

We generally agree that unnecessary suffering should not be imposed on other living beings, and as Prof. Stein stressed, scientists work hard to ensure that suffering is eliminated or reduced to an absolute minimum in laboratory animals. We do not think there are absolute moral principles.  Even “thou shall not kill” permits exceptions, such as in the case of self defense. Another example is the infliction of harm to other human beings that was, for most of us, morally justified and necessary when it came to liberating the concentration camps in Nazi Germany.

If we truly had an absolute moral obligation to never impose suffering on anybody, as PeTA representative Currie suggests, liberating concentrations camps would be morally wrong. We might accept such a declaration from someone who is a declared pacifist, but we have plenty of evidence to suggest that PeTA is a far from being such an organization.  PeTA remains morally confused.

Invariably, when opponents of animal research fail to make an ethical case for their position, they attack the science. In this case, it was Kailah Eglington, representing the Dr Hadwen Trust, who was in charge of this strategy.

“Scientifically looking at the facts, the animal model is flawed.” — she declared without even blinking.

Wait a second. Where was she when Prof. Stein explained how he found an area of the brain that when inactivated could relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s? How does she explain his success?  Or does she deny the benefits of the work?

Ms. Eglington also suggested that Prof. Stein could have used non-invasive methods in humans, such as MEG, suggesting the same information could be obtained by this techniques. As Prof. Stein pointed out in his response this is flatly wrong. Prof. Stein not only uses a range of such techniques, including MEG and fMRI alongside his studies in macaques, but with his colleagues at Oxford University pioneered the use of MEG as a research method in patients undergoing deep brain stimulation. However, none of the non-invasive methods can yield the same data that one obtains using micro-electrode recordings from the brain, as we discussed in an earlier post on the limitations of fMRI.

A quick visit to the Dr. Hawden Trust web-site reveals that they state with absolute certainty that:

Alternatives to animal experimentation are available in virtually every field of medical research.”

Wow…   Let’s be clear: this is complete utter nonsense that deserves to be filed here. Should we be surprised at the lack of sensible science by someone who, on the side, founded an organization which claims that “the power of positive thinking” can treat physically debilitating conditions.

Kailah Eglington furthered her pseudo-scientific nonsense by claiming that: “9 out of 10 drugs that are tested on animals successfully fail in humans“. The problem here is the mistaken blame on the animal model – these same drugs have already passed pre-clinical non-animal tests such as cell cultures and computer models; moreover, about 90% of drugs fail at every stage of development – meaning that 90% of those that pass early clinical trials in humans still fail to make it to market – this is not something we can blame the animal model for. We have previously written a full and clear rebuttal of the 90% claim – however it continues to be used by the animal rights community.

Such examples go to show a common problem for advocates of science – that it takes a lot longer to debunk junk science, than it does to make it up. While Tom Holder and Prof. Stein argued science’s case very well the debate highlighted some of the limitations of this format, though perhaps this is all we can expect from a format that tries to address Big Questions in 15 min of television programming.  It seems the goal here is more to get opposing sides to have a screaming contest rather than to provide an opportunity for thoughtful exploration of the questions at hand.

Speaking of Research

Professor Doudet vindicated as investigation rejects animal rights allegations.

Two weeks ago we discussed the targeting by Canadian animal rights group Stop UBC Animal Research (STOP) of University of British Columbia scientist Professor Doris Doudet. STOP alleged that Prof. Doudet had performed experiments on monkeys without the approval of the UBC Animal Care Committee, and then lied in a scientific paper to cover her tracks, though as we reported at the time their allegations of professional misconduct against her were based on a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. We are now happy – though in the circumstances not very surprised – to learn that an independent investigation of Prof. Doudet’s work has dismissed the allegations made against her.

According to today’s report in the Vancouver Sun, the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) carried out a detailed review of the research undertaken by Prof. Doudet’s team, and found:

no evidence to support allegations of animal cruelty against a University of British Columbia research team related to the deaths of four macaque monkeys.”

An earlier report on CTV news adds that the CCAC investigation:

found no evidence to support allegations that UBC was subjecting monkeys to cruel research experiments that were not overseen by the UBC Animal Care Committee.”

The letter from the CCAC to STOP detailing the conclusions of their investigation can be read here.

We asked Prof Doudet her views about this week’s developments, welcoming the news she said:

It is distressing to be wrongly accused, but the truth prevailed and we are all grateful for it.  MPTP always had unexpected effects, not only in monkeys but in the humans who unknowingly injected themselves with it: Out of the more than 100 people who were exposed to the drug in the early 80s, only a handful developed severe parkinsonism and there is no way to predict who will have such a severe negative response. But the MPTP primate model and the knowledge gained from it have played an important part in the basic understanding of physiological mechanisms involved in the disease, and this has been key to the development of many therapies for Parkinson’s disease, including DBS and the current testing of many gene therapies.”

We too welcome this news, though we wonder whether a formal investigation was really required to confirm what had been patently obvious right from the start.

Speaking of Research

STOP lying about research at the University of British Columbia

In a post a couple of weeks ago entitled “End of primate research at the University of Toronto?” Allyson Bennet wrote about the truth behind the spin that primate research has ceased at the University of Toronto (UT), commenting that:

 If nothing else, those inclined to dodge should consider that they are deriving benefit from the work of their colleagues at the institutions still willing to assume the risk and responsibility.”

It hasn’t taken very long for other animal rights groups in Canada to pick up on UT’s perceived change of policy, with a Vancouver-based group named STOP UBC Animal Research (STOP) quick to demand that the University of British Columbia (UBC) follow UT’s example.

For more than a year now STOP have been engaged in a high-profile campaign against animal research at UBC, prompting UPC to respond by providing information about the animal research they undertake. One of their main targets has been Professor Doris Doudet, who employs advanced imaging modalities such as positron emission tomography (PET) for the evaluation of functional, neurochemical, and anatomical changes in the brains of animal models of Parkinson’s disease.

In a paper published online last November in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism Professor Doudet and her colleagues reported that they had used PET to confirm that abnormal metabolic patterns recently observed in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients are also found in the brains of monkeys which have been treated with the drug MPTP to kill the dopamine producing neurons in the brain and induce Parkinsonism. This result both confirmed the close similarity between MPTP-induced Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease, and provides another useful way in which the effects of candidate therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease can be evaluated in this much-used animal model of Parkinson’s disease.

Unfortunately in the course of the experiment four of the eleven monkeys treated with MPTP developed an unusually severe response, and rather than recovering after the experiment – as is usually the case with monkeys treated with MPTP – they had to be euthanized. The Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and metabolism paper makes it clear that Prof. Doudet and her team responded quickly and correctly to the unexpected situation to minimize any suffering the animal’s experienced.

Not surprisingly STOP are seeking to make capital out of this event…but this is where animal rights propaganda parts company with the facts.

In a statement to the UBC student newspaper Ubyssey STOP claim that far from being accidental the four monkey deaths were planned:

a 2010 progress report on Doudet’s study indicated four monkeys were to be “sacrificed to neuropathology”—two at the six-month mark after showing mild symptoms of Parkinson’s, and the final two after twelve months.

“Animals should be able to recover from the Parkinsonism that researchers inflict on them,” Birthistle said. “She’s intending to kill them all along, and then they’re talking about it as being unforeseen circumstances.””

So what is this “2010 progress report? Well, another statement by STOP quoted in a Vancouver newspaper explains that they are referring to a study named “L91”.

So what is L91 all about?

It’s not the first time that STOP have complained about study L91, back in January of last year they staged a protest against it. L91 is a project planned by Prof. Doudet to use PET to study the effect of injection of the proteasome-inhibitor Lactacystin on the brain function of four macaques, and a description of the proposed project can be found on page 25 of this TRIUMF publication. Lactacystin injection is a relatively new animal model of Parkinson’s disease, recreating the damage to the proteasomes of the dopamine secreting neurons of the substantia nigra region of the brain observed in Parkinson’s disease patients, and has the potential to become a valuable resource for evaluation new therapies.

So it’s abundantly clear that the proposed study L91 is NOT the same as the study published last November in the The Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, as the former plans to use lactacystin to induce Parkinsonism while the latter used MPTP. It is equally clear that STOP are well aware that these are not the same study, as they have access to all the relevant documents.

Yet, not only to STOP repeatedly and dishonestly claim that these are the same study, but on the basis of this claim they go on to make false allegations of professional misconduct against Prof. Doudet and demand that UBC suspend her from her duties and carry out a full investigation.

And I’ll bet that they will express surprise and outrage when UBC refuses to comply with their demands!

Before leaving this subject it’s worth addressing the importance of the role of animal research in Parkinson’s disease research, something that we are well aware of thanks to Pro-Test’s own Prof. Tipu Aziz, whose research using the MPTP model of Parkinsonism made major contributions to making deep brain stimulation (DBS) for Parkinson’s disease the success it is today.  I’ll value the views of the neuroscience community as a whole – including great neuroscientists such as the physician-scientist Prof. Alim-Louis Benabid, pioneer of DBS for Parkinson’s disease – over those of the few fringe scientists that STOP can scrape together.  Prof. Benabid and other genuine experts on Parkinson’s disease recognize that while Parkinsonism models such as the MPTP monkey do not recreate every aspect of Parkinson’s disease they play a vital role alongside clinical research in uncovering the process that cause the disease and its symptoms, and in the development of new therapies for Parkinson’s disease.

As Prof. Benabid wrote in a review in 2004:

The knowledge of the functional changes of basal ganglia activity in the parkinsonian state as it emerged from extensive experimental studies on animal models has provided the theoretical basis for surgical therapy in PD. The 6-hydroxydopamine (6-ODHA) rat model and the 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) primate model of PD provided powerful research tools for uncovering the pathophysiology of changes in functional basal ganglia activity in PD. “

and in a review published this year

The specific effect of DBS at high frequency, discovered during a VIM thalamotomy, was extended to the older targets of ablative neurosurgery such as the pallidum, for tremor in Parkinson’s disease (PD), dyskinesias, essential tremor, as well as the internal capsule to treat psychiatric disorders (OCD). A second wave of targets came from basic research (in this instance animal research –PB), enabled by the low morbidity, reversibility, and adaptability of DBS. This was the case for the subthalamic nucleus (STN) which improves the triad of dopaminergic symptoms, and the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN) for gait disorders in PD. “

As with so many areas on medicine it is the confluence of animal and clinical researhc that is driving advances in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Rather ironically animal rights organizations like STOP and their supporters are very quick to claim that Prof. Benabid’s serendipitous discovery that electrical stimulation of the ventralis intermedius could reduce the tremor associated with Parkinson’s disease demonstrates that research using the MPTP model is unnecessary. They seek to co-opt his stature as a leading neuroscientist while simultaneously ignoring the fact that he not only recognizes the importance of animal models of Parkinson’s disease but himself undertakes studies with the MPTP Monkey model and other animal models of Parkinson’s disease.

So, the question is who you are going to believe, leading neuroscientists like Prof. Doudet and Prof. Benabid, or STOP? Somehow I doubt it will take you long to come to a decision!

Paul Browne

Animal research unleashes the power of human embryonic stem cells

For more than a decade now embryonic stem cell research has been one of the most high profile – and indeed controversial – areas of medical science, and it is an emerging field that owes a lot to animal studies performed by pioneers like Gail Martin of UCSF.

Recently the field has begun to live up to its promise with the announcement last year that the first patient had been enrolled in the first ever clinical trial of a human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), a trial that seeks to evaluate the safety of the hESC-derived oligodentrocyte progenitor cells in patients with spinal cord injury.  We discussed the role of animal research in the development of this therapy by Geron Corp in a post on this blog back in 2009.

In September of this year embryonic stem cells were in the news again with the announcement that clinical trials of retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPEs) derived from hESCs for the treatment of an inherited form of blindness known as Stargart’s Macular Dystrophy, are taking place at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. The development of this therapy was led by Professor Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and rests on animal studies which showed that RPE cells derived from hESCs were safe and could restore vision in rodent models of Stargart’s Macular Dystrophy, as a study publishes in the Journal Stem Cells in 2009 makes clear:

Assessments of safety and efficacy are crucial before human ESC (hESC) therapies can move into the clinic. Two important early potential hESC applications are the use of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt disease, an untreatable form of macular dystrophy that leads to early-onset blindness. Here we show long-term functional rescue using hESC-derived RPE in both the RCS rat and Elov14 mouse, which are animal models of retinal degeneration and Stargardt, respectively. Good Manufacturing Practice-compliant hESC-RPE survived subretinal transplantation in RCS rats for prolonged periods (>220 days). The cells sustained visual function and photoreceptor integrity in a dose-dependent fashion without teratoma formation or untoward pathological reactions. Near-normal functional measurements were recorded at >60 days survival in RCS rats. To further address safety concerns, a Good Laboratory Practice-compliant study was carried out in the NIH III immune-deficient mouse model. Long-term data (spanning the life of the animals) showed no gross or microscopic evidence of teratoma/tumor formation after subretinal hESC-RPE transplantation. These results suggest that hESCs could serve as a potentially safe and inexhaustible source of RPE for the efficacious treatment of a range of retinal degenerative diseases.”

Spinal Injury and Stargart’s Macular Dystrophy are only two of many diseases where hESC based treatments are offering hope of improvement, for more than a decade scientists have been investigating in animal models the use of embryonic stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine and results in severe movement impairment. Now, a report in the Guardian newspaper describes how, after years of dedicated research, scientists have overcome a major of technical hurdle and paved the way for the evaluation of hESC therapy for Parkinson’s disease in human clinical trials. The Guardian report stresses the importance of studies in mice, rats and monkeys to evaluating the efficacy and safety of hESC-derived dopamine producing cells:

In a series of experiments, the team gave animals six injections of more than a million cells each, to parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s. The neurons survived, formed new connections and restored lost movement in mouse, rat and monkey models of the disease, with no sign of tumour development. The improvement in monkeys was crucial, as the rodent brains required fewer working neurons to overcome their symptoms”

The study, which those with a subscription to Nature can read here, is very promising, and hopefully it won’t be very long until we are reading about the start of another clinical trial of hESC derived cells.

It is worth noting that despite fierce opposition from its opponents, public support for human embryonic stem cell research remains very high, a level of support that owes much to the willingness of scientists and research charities such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to speak out in support of this important work.  While polls indicate that a clear majority of Americans support animal research, that majority could be larger, and the lesson from the stem cell debate is that the public are willing to listen to the arguments put forward by scientist. It is up to all of us who value animal research to do our bit to ensure that the majority in favor of animal research grows; after all, it can’t be right that more Americans support hESC medicine than support the animal research on which it depends!

Paul Browne

Breakthroughs of the year 2010: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Every December Science, the magazine published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and ranking among among the most prestigious of scientific journals, publishes its list of the “Breakthrough of the Year”, and it affords us one last opportunity to look back on a few of the major developments we have discussed in 2010 . As one might expect from a general science journal, breakthroughs in the biosciences were accompanied by those in other fields, with the top place going to the development of the first quantum machine, a breakthrough that heralds a revolution in our understanding of quantum mechanics.

Among the runners up were two breakthroughs that we have covered on Speaking of Research in the past year, the successful clinical trials of HIV Prophylaxis and the return of the rat to the biomedical laboratory.

Science identified two successful clinical trials of new HIV prevention strategies, the first involving the use of a microbicide gel containing the anti-HIV drug tenofovir to prevent male-to-female transmission of the virus, and a second in which the drug Truvada, a combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine,  was used to prevent male-to-male transmission. Back in July we discussed how research in monkeys had facilitated the development of the microbicide gel, while in 2009 Dr. Koen Van Rompay of the University of California at Davis wrote about the important role played by primate research in the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, including the combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine used in the clinical trial reported in 2010.

Dr Abdool Karim explains how to use a microbicide gel applicator. Image courtesy of CAPRISA.

It’s great to see years of dedicated research begin to bear fruit, and we heartily agree with the sentiments expressed in Science that:

Neither approach is a magic bullet, AIDS researchers say. But in combination with other measures, they could usher in a new era of HIV prevention.

Science has also noted the return of the rat as a model organism of choice in biomedical research, after decades of being eclipsed by its smaller relative, the mouse.  This development has been due to a series of breakthroughs which have enabled scientists to manipulate the genes of rats, just as they have for years in mice.  Back in August we discussed how scientists at the University of Cambridge and the University of Southern California had discovered a way to grow rat embryonic stem cells in vitro, allowing them to alter the genetic make-up of their cells, and how scientists at SAGE Labs developed a zinc finger nuclease technology that can be used to delete, modify or replace specific genes in the rat.  A recent article in the Boston Globe  reports that the Michael J. Fox Foundation has joined with SAGE Labs to develop a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, evidence if any were needed of the high expectations that neuroscientists have for GM rats.

This isn’t to say that the laboratory mouse has had its day, as noted in our article in August GM mice are playing a vital role in uncovering the secrets of the genome, while the Michael J. Fox Foundation recently reported how research on mice had allowed their scientists to discover a promising new way to treat Parkinson’s disease.

Coming soon to a lab near you? Image courtesy of Understanding Animal Research.

Since the end of the year also marked the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Science also listed its insights of the decade, including “Reprogramming Cells” in its top ten. The crucial role played by animal research in making this development possible is a subject that we’ve touched on in several posts over the past few years, including discussion of the discovery and development of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells on the Pro-Test website here, here and here, while on the Speaking of Research website we have discussed a more recent breakthrough that allows scientists to change the role of cells of the pancreas without reverting to stem cells in the process. It is fascinating stuff, and a field in which new discoveries are constantly being made, and it’s worth remembering that the whole field of stem research was opened up by research in mice performed by pioneers such as Gail Martin, and Martin Evans and Matthew Kaufman, not to mention the earlier development of in-vitro fertilization by Gregory Pincus and Min Chueh Chang that made the embryonic stem cell culture possible.

Cellular reprogramming is an excellent example of an area of biomedical research whose past, present and future relies on animal research. It’s great to see how animal research has allowed the development of an area of science that is sure to have a big impact on 21st century medicine.

Finally we’ll take a look at the “Areas to Watch” in 2011 that Science has identified. One area that Science mentions is the development of vaccines that induce the production of “broadly neutralizing antibodies” which protect against many strains of the flu, such as the Acambis vaccine we discussed briefly back in 2009, but the one we’ll really be watching is the large clinical trial of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. Just over two years ago we reported that the RTS,S vaccine, the development of which relied heavily on research in mice and rabbits, had performed well in clinical trials that evaluated its ability to protect children against malaria infection. This year the results of a trial involving nearly 16,000 subjects will be announced, and if the vaccine proves as good as previous clinical trials suggest, we will soon have a very valuable new weapon against a disease which still devastates lives and saps the strength of societies in many parts of the world. The success of the RTS,S vaccine in trials so far is – as Science puts it – “not spectacular”, but it is good enough to be very useful, and while new, more powerful, vaccines are being developed, 2011 will hopefully herald a new era in preventing malaria infection.

Wishing you all the very best in the New Year,

Paul Browne