The week in animal research: w/e 24/10/14
Scientists have managed to successfully open and close the protective cover around the brain – the blood-brain barrier – in a human patient as a means for drug delivery, following work in a range of animals including mice and monkeys. The blood-brain barrier, or ‘BBB’, is a sheath of cells that wraps around all the blood vessels in the brain, protecting is against pathogens but also preventing compounds like chemotherapy drugs from getting through. Since July a team from French medical start-up CarThera have been working with four glioblastoma patients, using a combination of ultrasound and an injection of microbubbles to open the BBB to allow the passage of chemotherapy drugs. It will still be a few months before they can determine the effect that their method is having on the tumours.
Lambs are being used for research into respiratory syncytial virus, a disease that can cause life-threatening symptoms in new born humans. Mark Ackermann of the Iowa State University who lead the research notes that lambs make a good model for studying the disease because they are roughly the same size as human infants, the virus replicates well within the respiratory systems, and causes the same kind of damage to the bronchioles.
Tiny satellite transmitters have been used to track hatchling sea turtles for the first time, in an effort to protect the endangered animals by understanding this previously unknown part of their migratory behaviour. Scientists used nano-acoustic tags glued to the shells of eleven hatchling loggerhead turtles to record the animals’ latitude and longitude. The baby turtles were found to be phenomenal swimmers, travelling at speeds of around 60 metres per minute, with some travelling 15 km in the first eight hours.
A segment of human intestine has been grown inside laboratory mice for the first time. The fingertip-sized piece of tissue grew from a single stem cell, and was able to carry out many intestinal functions. As well as providing further evidence that whole organs could be grown from scratch inside a patient’s body, this technology could also speed up the development of new medicines by producing better laboratory models, and offer alternatives to using animals. This study “provides a new way to study the many diseases and conditions that can cause intestinal failure, from genetic disorders appearing at birth to conditions that strike later in life, such as cancer and Crohn’s disease,” Dr Michael Helmrath, who led the research, said.
A paralysed man is able to walk again following a transplant of cells from his nose, a treatment that has been pioneered in rats and dogs. Darek Fidyka, who was paralysed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame. Scientists from UCL developed the technique, and collaborated with surgeons in Poland to apply the treatment to Darek. Prof Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London's Institute of Neurology, led the UK research team. He said what had been achieved was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".
Male bustard birds intentionally consume poison during courtship in order to attract females. But it appears that this behaviour is just misplaced masculine bravado: the toxins from the blister beetle, the poisonous snack of choice for male bustards, also serve to kill parasites that live in the male reproductive orifice. During courtship the female will inspect the male cloaca and select a partner based partially on how few parasites he has down below. As the article in Science puts it, “Ah, romance.”