This week in animal research: w/e 5 September
The anticancer abilities of the naked-mole rat are about to be tested in mice for the first time. Last year scientists discovered that naked mole rat cells produce large quantities of a molecule called hyaluron, which binds to developing tumours and prevents them from growing. All mammals produce hyaluron, which acts as a lubricant between cells and joints, but in much lower quantities than the naked mole rat. The new study will use mice engineered to be deficient in an enzyme that breaks down hyaluron to see whether this increases their resistance to skin cancer. If successful this enxyme, HYAL2, could be a future target for cancer medications. Barbara Triggs-Raine, who is leading the study at the University of Manitoba, said: “If it works, it could be used to stop tumours growing or even as a preventative measure in people who are at high risk.”
It may be possible to ‘retrain’ the immune system to treat or even prevent autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis or Type I diabetes, according to a study using mice. A team form Bristol University demonstrated that the immune system can be taught to stop responding to harmless proteins as though they were dangerous. Proteins from the myelin sheaths of MS model mice were synthesised in the lab and injected into the blood stream in increasing doses. The result is that the body begins to learn that these proteins are safe. The story has been covered in a number of newspapers including the Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Mirror, but sadly none of the these articles mention that mice were involved.
Cockatoos may rival crows in their problem-solving and tool-using abilities, as a new study shows that they are capable of emulating tool-making tricks when shown them by another bird. Research from University of Oxford has shown that naïve birds were able to learn new tricks for obtaining food from an ‘innovator’ named Figaro, who demonstrated to his peers how to create a wooden tool for obtaining a piece of food.
Monkeys at different position in their social hierarchy have physically different brains. By comparing the brains of 25 macaque monkeys researchers from the University of Oxford identified a network of brain areas that were significantly enlarged in dominant animals, while other areas were larger in subordinates. The monkeys live in groups of five, so the team of researchers identified their social status by observing their behaviour, before using fMRI scanning to examine their brains.
Tiny hairs or cilia on the surface of corals create powerful vortices in the surrounding water that draw in nutrients and expel toxic waste products. By combining powerful microscopes with high speed cameras, Scientists from MIT observed ‘vigorous stirring’ caused by corals growing in a laboratory tank. A close up understanding of how coral reefs work could help to predict how they react to changing ocean environment as a result of climate change, and could even have implications for human health. "It's rare that you have a situation in which you see cilia on the outside of an animal," said Prof Roman Stocker from MIT. "So corals could provide a general model for understanding ciliary processes related to disease."
A 'quick test' for malaria has shown early success correctly identifying the parasite in both infected human and mouse blood samples. The portable device can diagnose the infection by detecting by-products of the parasite's growth in the blood stream, and could eventually be used to detect malaria in remote areas where conventional testing equipment is not always available. “It will be important to show this can be done with blood obtained from clinical samples in malaria-endemic settings,” where most patients are at the stage where the parasites infect red blood cells, says Carole Long, an immunologist who studies malaria at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.