The year in Animal Research

In May this year we launched our Animal Research News Feed, a daily round-up of the most interesting animal science stories from the UK and around the world. 2013 has been a fantastic year, from significant breakthroughs in HIV and Alzheimer’s research, to unusual mouse behaviour and self-cleaning seabird eggs. Here is our pick of the best research news from 2013; please help us choose the top story.

1. 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.

2. An experimental gene therapy treatment cured haemophilia in dogs

Two out of three dogs given an experimental gene therapy treatment for haemophilia remained free of the disease more than two years following treatment. A condition that naturally affects both dogs and around one in every 10,000 men, haemophilia is caused by a genetic defect that researchers targeted using a virus to carry the normal gene. Researchers have applied for permission to carry out a clinical trial in the next two years.

3. Ovarian stimulation developed in mice leads to successful human pregnancy

An ovary stimulation technique originally pioneered in mice has allowed a previously infertile woman to give birth. The ovaries are removed and stimulated to produce eggs in vitro by reducing the activity of the ‘Hippo’ pathway, which normally prevents overgrowth of the ovarian tissue.

4. Mice can lose their innate fear of cats through parasitic infection

Mice can permanently lose their fear of cats following exposure to the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Infected mice show no physical symptoms, but did not show an aversion to cat urine, unlike their uninfected counterparts. Toxoplasma can be transferred to humans, and this study raises concerns about the long-term neurological damage that toxoplasma and other bacterial infections might have.

5. 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 they suspect may form a tight cage around early-stage tumour cells,  preventing ‘pre-cancers’ from proliferating.

6. 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.

7. Scientists grow tiny liver in a mouse

Scientists successfully grew tiny ‘liver buds’ using human stem cells, and transplanted into mice delayed death in individuals with liver failure. They even began to take on a range of liver functions such as protein secretion. After transplantation the liver buds attached themselves to nearby blood vessels and continued to grow.

8. 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.

9. Dual-action drug shows promise against diabetes

An experimental type II diabetes drug reduced blood sugar levels in  humans, monkeys and rodents. The unnamed molecule seems likely to cause fewer side-effects in humans than current medications for the disease. In mouse studies researchers found that long-term treatment at a higher dose lead to significant weight loss; obese mice receiving the highest doses lost 19% of their body weight in just one week.

10. UK firm seeks to market world's first malaria vaccine

GlaxoSmithKlein are seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first  Malaria vaccine after a successful African trial involving over 15,000  children in seven countries. In children aged 5-17 months the vaccine caused a 46% reduction in the risk of clinical malaria compared to unvaccinated children.

Now it’s your turn. Take a moment to vote and let us know which you think is the best, most promising, most fascinating or most significant research story of 2013.