By ERIC BOODMAN
At parties and bars, he introduces himself as a “rat tickler.”
The title makes Shimpei Ishiyama sound like he belongs in some forgotten guild of yore, with the Victorian “pure-finders,” who collected dog dung for a living, and the “flankers and flaggers,” who kept partridges in the range of hunters’ guns.
But he is, in actual fact, a neuroscientist, and his rat-tickling is anything but antiquated. By trying to titillate these rodents — and recording how their neurons respond — Ishiyama and his adviser are unraveling a mystery that has puzzled thinkers ever since Aristotle posited that humans, given their thin skin and unique ability to laugh, were the only ticklish animals. Read more.
BY: LAURIE MCGINLEY
The Washington Post
Flyer, a 70-pound golden retriever, lies patiently on her left side on an examination table as technicians scurry around, placing little sandbags on her legs and neck to keep her still. She’s getting chest X-rays to answer a critical question: Has a deadly bone cancer spread to her lungs?
When the session is over, Martha MaloneyHuss, a veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital, glances at the images. “I don’t see anything hugely obvious,” she says, “but we’ll see what the radiologist says.” Oblivious to the good news, Flyer hops down the hall on three legs, eager to find her owner.
After the 8-year-old retriever began limping last year, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a painful, aggressive cancer that often strikes Great Danes, Irish wolfhounds and other large breeds. At Penn Vet, she got the standard treatment: One of her left legs was amputated, and she underwent chemotherapy. Read more.
Written by: Rae Ellen Bichell
A few months ago, neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch emerged from a 10-hour surgery that she hadn’t done before.
“Most of my patients are humans,” says Bloch, who works at the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland.
This patient was a rhesus macaque.
The monkey’s spinal cord had been partially cut. So while his brain was fine and his legs were fine, the two couldn’t communicate.
“Normally, the brain is giving commands, and the legs are responding to the commands through the spinal cord. When you have a spinal cord lesion, then this command is interrupted,” says Bloch. Read more.
Written by: Emily Mullin
Novel cancer drugs that harness an individual’s own immune system to fight cancer are showing incredible promise in some patients, but researchers don’t fully understand why these immunotherapies work for some people and not others.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health say they need animal models that imitate the human immune system to study the effects of these drugs. This week an advisory committee at the National Cancer Institute at NIH said it will start a new program in 2017 to study experimental immunotherapies in dogs with cancer. The National Cancer Institute has been performing clinical trials in dogs since 2003 with other cancer therapies, but this is the first large-scale dog immunotherapy effort the institute is supporting. Read more.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, have isolated a human monoclonal antibody that in a mouse model “markedly reduced” infection by the Zika virus.
The antibody, called ZIKV-117, also protected the fetus in pregnant mice infected with the virus, the researchers reported in the journal Nature. Zika is believed to cause microcephaly, unusually small heads, and other congenital malformations in children born to infected women.
Similar protection studies in primates are warranted, and if the findings hold up, ZIKV-177 could be developed as a protective antibody treatment for pregnant women at risk of Zika infection, the researchers concluded. Read more.
By: Ghuncha Shaheed
3D printing is gradually taking over the world. We’ve had 3D printed models for architecture, 3D sonic holograms, and then 3D synthetic bones to replace bones in our body. 3D printing’s potential to create such customized objects has made more advancements in the medical field than in anything else.
Harvard has now created a 3D printed organ-on-a-chip and has gotten closer to mimicking the human organs through its integrated sensors. This is particularly of use when it comes to testing the efficacy of the artificial tissue before implanting them into the human body. Read more.
Written by: Bahar Gholipour
Scientists have long been working toward a day when a traumatic injury or stroke doesn’t cause brain cells to be permanently lost.
Executing this extremely difficult task would involve figuring out how to transplant new neurons into brain tissue. But neurons form precise connections with each other, and are guided by physiological signals that are active during early brain development ― meaning that you can’t sow a fistful of new neurons into mature brain tissue and expect them to grow the way they should. Read more.
Dogs are one of the most common household pets in the world, so it’s curious that we know relatively little about their cognitive abilities when we know so much about the abilities of other animals, from primates to cetaceans. Over the last couple decades, researchers have been aiming to bridge this gap in scientific knowledge, investigating how our canine companions behave and what they know and why.
The October 2016 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science presents an entire special issue dedicated to exploring all that psychological scientists have learned about dog behavior and cognition in recent years. Current Directions in Psychological Science is a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Read more.
Written by: Jess Vilvestre
INTRODUCING A WEAKER STRAIN
The Black Death, a killer disease that wiped out nearly a third of the population of 14th century Europe, has recently been re-emerging. Cases of the plague have been reported from the USA, Peru, and Africa. The Journal of Infectious Diseases & Preventive Medicine writes that there are about 1,000 to 2,000 cases of the plague reported each year to the World Health Organization.
Developments from researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston bring forth new potential vaccines to protect against the plague, as reported in NPJ Vaccines. Read more.
By Elizabeth Pennisi
Although it has a face—and body—that only a mother could love, the naked mole rat has a lot to offer biomedical science. It lives 10 times longer than a mouse, almost never gets cancer, and doesn’t feel pain from injury and inflammation. Now, researchers say they’ve figured out how the rodents keep this pain away.
“It’s an amazing result,” says Harold Zakon, an evolutionary neurobiologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who was not involved with the work. “This study points us to important areas … that might be targeted to reduce this type of pain.”
Naked mole rats are just plain weird. They live almost totally underground in colonies structured like honey bee hives, with hundreds of workers servicing a single queen and her few consorts. To survive, they dig kilometers of tunnels in search of large underground tubers for food. It’s such a tough life that—to conserve energy—this member of the rodent family gave up regulating its temperature, and they are able to thrive in a low-oxygen, high–carbon dioxide environment that would suffocate or be very painful to humans. “They might as well be from another planet,” says Thomas Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Read more