Highlights of research news in 2013
As the statistics on the use of animals for research in 2013 have been released today, we thought it would be nice to look back on the impressive research published last year. There certainly was a lot of exciting news, but here are some of our highlights:
Diabetes cured in dogs using gene therapy
A single treatment session consisting of few simple injections was enough to clear symptoms of diabetes and restore dogs back to good health. This was the first time that diabetes had been cured in a large animal, after it had previously been demonstrated in mice. The treatment delivers two genes, for insulin and glucokinase, which helps the dogs to detect sugar levels and respond appropriately.
Lab-grown kidneys transplanted into rats
Kidneys removed from recently deceased rats were stripped of their cells and then used as a scaffold for growing new cells in the lab that were then transplanted into other rats. This has dramatic potential for reducing the demand for organs for transplant if the technique can be scaled up to human kidneys.
Artificial retina lets blind people see again
Nine patients who had lost the light-sensitive cells in the retina were able to see again after having a microchip implanted in the back of their eyes. Within weeks, participants in the trial were able to read signs on doors or tell the time on an analogue clock. The light-sensitive chips were developed after years of previous work, including testing the artificial retina in rabbits and minipigs.
First chemical to prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease
Scientists at the University of Leicester developed a compound that stopped brain cell death occurring in neurodegenerative diseases in mice. Resulting medicines could be used to treat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s and other diseases, although researchers were keen to stress that more work would be needed to develop a drug that could be taken by patients.
Simple molecule prevents mole rats from getting cancer
The naked mole rat appears to be completely immune to cancer, thanks to the excessive quantities of hyaluronic acid produced by their fibroblasts. Hyaluronic acid is a long chain sugar molecule that researchers suspect may form a tight cage around early-stage tumour cells, preventing ‘pre-cancers’ from proliferating.
Nerve grafts let paralysed rats pee again
A nerve graft applied to a severed spinal cord has restored up to two thirds of bladder function in rats. After six months the rats were still unable to walk, but could urinate unaided. Both the bacterial enzyme and nerve grafts have been successfully used in humans before, meaning that nerve graft treatments for spinal cord injuries might not be a far off possibility.
False memory planted in mouse’s brain
Scientists implanted a false memory in the brains of mice in an experiment that they hope will shed light on the well-documented phenomenon whereby people "remember" events or experiences that have never happened.