This week in animal research 240415
Scientists at Imperial College London have identified a previously unknown protein that 'turbo-charges' the immune system to fight off viruses and even cancer. The protein was discovered while the team were screening mice with various genetic mutations. One particular mutant produced ten times the number of cancer-fighting immune cells.
Professor Philip Ashton-Rickhardt, who led the study, described the discovery as "a game-changer for treating a number of different cancers and viruses. This is a completely unknown protein. Nobody had ever seen it before or was even aware that it existed. It looks and acts like no other protein.”
Some Japanese veterinarians have tried to assess the role of eye contact in the relationship between man and his best friend. They compared these relationships with those between human and wolves (which are not domesticated as a species). They found "gazing" increased the levels of oxytocin in the urine of the dogs, but not of the wolves. In reverse, they found that a spray of oxytocin to the nose of dogs made female dogs more likely to stare at their owners and hold their gaze for longer.
A common athletes foot drug may offer hope to those with multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating condition that can lead to paralysis and blindness. Early tests in rodents show the drug repairs some of the cell damage by encouraging the growth of myelin to coat and protect nerves. Off-label prescriptions offer a lot of promise because the compounds are already known to be safe for human use. However, it will be some time before it is known if the results will translate from rodents to humans.
Prof Daniel Altmann, an expert in immunology at Imperial College London, said: "There has been tremendous progress in recent years in development, clinical trials and licensing of new drugs that aim to block the immune attack and thus ameliorate progress of disease.The problem that has been much harder to crack is what to do about the fact that this still leaves patients with irreversible disability through the damage to the myelin sheaths in the central nervous system that has been sustained."
A new gene therapy appears to be successful in curing a rare genetic condition, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, in children. The trial at the Great Ormond Street Hospital could pave the way for new gene therapies for conditions such as sickle cell anaemia.
Preclinical work was conducted in immunodeficient (genetically altered) mice. These animals were key to developing and evaluating the lentiviral vector used to treat Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome.
Emma Morris, an immunologist at University College London said: “People have been working on it for ten years and it’s now becoming a reality that you can safely genetically modify cells and introduce them into people.”
Asthma could be cured within 5 years thanks to drug breakthrough. Researchers have identified in mice which cells go into overdrive and cause the airways to narrow when triggered by irritants such as pollution. Drugs that can deactivate those cells already exist, and now researchers hope to have found a way to stop asthma from happening in the first place. Scientists are hoping that clinical trials will start soon.
Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy at Asthma UK, who helped fund the research, said: "This hugely exciting discovery enables us, for the first time, to tackle the underlying causes of asthma symptoms. Five per cent of people with asthma don't respond to current treatments so research breakthroughs could be life changing for hundreds of thousands of people. If this research proves successful we may be just a few years away from a new treatment for asthma.”
Ebola drug cures monkeys infected with the virus. The treatment targets the West African strain of the virus and could be adapted to target any strain of Ebola. It works by blocking particular genes, which stops the virus from replicating. Currently, there are no treatments or vaccines for Ebola that has been proven to work in humans, but human trials with the monkey-saving drug are expected to start in the second half of this year.
University of Texas scientist Thomas Geisbert, who was the senior author of the study published in the journal Nature, said: "This is the first study to show post-exposure protection... against the new Makona outbreak strain of Ebola-Zaire virus."