Animal research news round up
We have several stories which very clearly illustrate the potential medical benefits of research this week. I started my working life in a company making kidney machine components. We regulalry received visits from patients who used our devices so I was particularly interested by this first item on the growth of a functioning kidney.
Researchers in the US have grown a functioning kidney, and transplanted it into a rat. The kidney produces urine, albeit at a less efficient rate than a natural kidney.
Next, “Pig 26”. This male piglet, born last August, has been genetically engineered by a research team at the Roslin Institute (of Dolly the Sheep fame) as part of an ambitious project to create disease resistant animals. Their new technique involves making tiny manipulations in the animals’ DNA during the egg stage, and is 10-15 % more efficient that standard genetic engineering techniques.
An excuse for a picture of a snake! A team from the University of California have developed a ‘nanosponge’ capable of absorbing and safely removing a broad class of toxins, including MRSA, E. coli and poisonous snake venom. They tested mouse survival rate with and without nansponges, and found that treatment lowered the mortality rate significantly.
As always Nature come up trumps with a scary photo to accompany a really neat story. An international team of scientists have sequenced the genome of the coelacanth, a creature that was thought to only exist in the fossil record until 1938 when an South African fisherman found one tangled in his nets. This ugly blue fish represents a potentially significant link in understanding how the earliest four-limbed land animals evolved.
Another significant event - the final sequences of the zebrafish genome were unveiled this week. Zebra fish have become the key model organism for studying everything from embryonic development to treatments for human disease. 70% of human genes have a zebrafish counterpart, and when you look at disease causing genes that proportion leaps to 80%. An accurate genome will allow researchers studying genetic disease in the zebrafish to rapidly accelerate their research programmes.
A new approach to treating drug resistant bacteria has been published in PLoS ONE. Scientists at Rockerfeller University used a virus that naturally attacks bacteria as a starting point to generate a new drug that targets bacterial cell walls. Cell wall proteins do not evolve rapidly, as they are integral to bacterial survival. Mice infected with lethal doses of anthrax were rescued by treatment with the new drug, Epimerox. The team hope to start human clinical trials within 2 years.
My colleague thought this story cute, I thought it worrying we need to learn how to care for our children through mice! Japanese scientists have found that both mouse and human babies become calm and relaxed when they are carried by their mother. The work began with initial observations in mouse pups, and the same results have been found in humans. Being carried reduces the baby’s heart rate and activates calming circuitry within the brain.