Three to four days a week, Philadelphia veterinarian Clint Kuban drops off his 3-year-old German shepherd, Tsunami, at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center for her eight-hour shift.
But the pooch isn’t just participating in agility, obedience and search training — she’s also on the front lines of cancer research.
Kuban is one of six fourth-year students at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine followed in the new Animal Planet series “Life at Vet U,” premiering Saturday at 10 p.m. Tsunami has worked on the center’s ovarian-cancer-detection research projectsince it launched in 2013 to study whether odors emanating from ovarian tissue can provide a reliable method for early detection.
The 2016 Lasker Awards have highlighted some great discoveries and the scientists behind them. This guest post by Samuel Henager, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, investigates how animal studies contributed to the discoveries celebrated by this years’ Lasker Awards.
Basic Medical Research Award
The 2016 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award was awarded to William G. Kaelin, Jr. of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Peter J. Ratcliffe of University of Oxford, Francis Crick Institute, and Gregg L. Semenza of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for their work in discovering how cells sense and respond to changes in oxygen levels.
As the first local mosquito-borne transmissions of the Zika virus are being reported in the continental United States, an investigational vaccine developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is entering phase 1 clinical trials.
At least 80 people between the ages of 18 and 35 years will be enrolled in the trial, which will take place at 3 study sites in the United States including the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The trial will test vaccine safety and immunogenicity.
Scientists at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center developed the DNA vaccine, which does not contain Zika virus and therefore cannot cause an infection. The vaccine contains a genetically engineered plasmid—a small, circular piece of DNA—that encodes Zika virus proteins. These proteins assemble into viruslike particles that provoke an immune response against the virus. This response is composed of both neutralizing antibodies and T cells.
Researchers from the University of Maryland Fischell Department of Bioengineering and the University of Maryland School of Medicine report a new way to “turn off” the harmful immune attack that occurs during autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), while keeping healthy functions of the immune system intact.
“Our lab is combining immunology and nanotechnology to reprogram how the immune system responds to self-cells in the brain that are mistakenly attacked during MS,” said BIOE Assistant Professor Christopher Jewell, corresponding author on the new report. “The finding, conducted in cells and pre-clinical animal models of MS, could lead to new approaches for reversing paralysis in MS, or better therapies for other autoimmune diseases.”
Nonhuman primates have long played a key role in life-changing medical advances. A recent white paper by nine scientific societies in the US produced a list of 50 medical advances from the last 50 years made possible through studies on nonhuman primates. These included: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; the MMR and hepatitis B vaccines; and earlier diagnosis and better treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome and breast cancer.
The biological similarities between humans and other primates mean that they are sometimes the only effective model for complex neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. More than 10 million people suffer from Parkinson’s worldwide, and a recent study estimated that one in three people born in 2015 will develop dementia in their lifetime. Primate research offers treatments, and hope for future treatments, to patients and their families. Already over 200,000 Parkinson’s patients have had their life dramatically improved thanks to deep brain stimulation surgery, which reduces the tremors of sufferers. This treatment was developed from research carried out in a few hundred monkeys in the 1980s and 1990s.
San Antonio scientists are part of a push to develop laboratory animal models to study the Zika virus. Baboons and monkeys may be key to unlocking new treatments and vaccines.
Marmosets are a New World monkey that lives in Brazil, where it’s been infected with Zika in the wild. Now, scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute are using the small primate, about the size of a guinea pig, to test possible vaccines and treatments for Zika.
“When you infect marmoset with a human virus, the disease looks very much like what you see in humans,” explained Jean L. Patterson, Ph.D., scientist in the virology department.
Depending on whom you ask, yesterday’s U.S. government workshop on the state of nonhuman primate research was either a raging success or a complete fiasco. The event, held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, brought together dozens of scientists, veterinarians, and bioethicists to discuss how research on monkeys and related animals is contributing to human medicine and to review the welfare policies that surround this work. But observers differed widely on whether it accomplished what Congress had in mind when it told NIH to hold the event.
“It was a great showcase of the importance nonhuman primates have played and continue to play in human health,” says Anne Deschamps, a senior science policy analyst at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, one of several scientific organizations that signed onto a white paper released in advance of the meeting that promoted the use of these animals in biomedical research. She contends that research on these animals has been critical for our understanding of HIV and the human brain.
Two weeks ago, nine scientific societies, including the American Physiological Society, the Society for Neuroscience, and the American Academy for Neurology, published a white paper entitled “The critical role of nonhuman primates in medical research“. The paper, which notes how nonhuman primates are critical to all stages of research, provides a huge number of examples of medical breakthroughs made possible thanks to studies in nonhuman primates. Among the paper’s appendices is a list of over fifty medical advances from the last fifty years alone; these include: treatments for leprosy, HIV and Parkinson’s; vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B; and surgeries such as heart and lung transplants. This is no small feat considering the group of species accounts for around only 0.1% of animal research in most countries (that provide data).
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – affects around 1.6 million people in the United States. Most people are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease before age 35, and while these life-long conditions can be treated, there is currently no cure.
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation to the lining of the digestive system. While the disease can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, the most commonly affected areas are the end of the small intestine (the ileum) or the large intestine (colon).
Cell models from stem cells serve an ever-increasing role in research of cardiac dysfunction. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have succeeded in producing cells which offer new insights into properties of the heart. They installed a molecular sensor into the cells which emits light, and not only makes the cells’ electrical activity visible, but also makes it possible for the first time to quickly identify cell types.
It has been possible to produce so-called induced pluripotent stem cells in the laboratory for the past ten years. These stem cells are derived from white blood cells, for example, and can be infinitely reproduced in the laboratory, and be turned into all possible types of cells. This has enabled the use of heart cells produced in this way in order to investigate cardiac rhythm dysfunctions, for example. Animal experiments are only of limited use for this application, and tissue samples cannot be easily taken from patients’ hearts. Cultivated heart cells, however, provide the opportunity to research such diseases in a ‘miniature’ format.