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.
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.
A study led by UC Irvine scientists involving animals may someday lead to treatments for people with insomnia and other sleep disorders, the researchers say.
As the team — led by Qun-Yong Zhou, a UCI professor of pharmacology — studied the sleeping and waking patterns of mice and monkeys, the group determined that the patterns were not governed by a specific portion of the brain commonly thought to be the body’s “master clock.”
Researchers have created a new drug delivery system that could improve the effectiveness of an emerging concept in cancer treatment — to dramatically slow and control tumors on a long-term, sustained basis, not necessarily aiming for their complete elimination.
The approach, called a “metronomic dosage regimen,” uses significantly lower doses of chemotherapeutic drugs but at more frequent time intervals. This would have multiple goals of killing cancer cells, creating a hostile biological environment for their growth, reducing toxicity from the drug regimen and avoiding the development of resistance to the cancer drugs being used.
New research in mice may offer insight into how the Zika virus is transmitted sexually and affects a fetus. People typically get the virus through the bite of an infected mosquito, although Zika can also be spread through sex.
Since the Zika outbreak began last year in Brazil, thousands of babies whose mothers were infected with Zika early in pregnancy have been born with a devastating birth defect known as microcephaly, in which the head and brain are abnormally small.
One of the more studied parts of the human anatomy, the retina—the neural layer at the back of the eye that senses light—still has secrets to reveal.
“Researchers have known for decades that increased levels of light increase visual acuity,” said Erika Eggers, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, physiology and neuroscience and member of the BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona. “But we still don’t understand the mechanisms behind this process. It seems like it should be relatively simple, but it’s really very complicated.”
Neuroscientists have developed a way to turn an entire mouse, including its muscles and internal organs, transparent while illuminating the nerve paths that run throughout its body.
The process, called uDisco, provides an alternate way for researchers to study an organism’s nervous system without having to slice into sections of its organs or tissues. It allows researchers to use a microscope to trace neurons from the rodent’s brain and spinal cord all the way to its fingers and toes.
“When I saw images on the microscope that my students were obtaining, I was like ‘Wow, this is mind blowing,’” said Ali Ertürk, a neuroscientist from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich in Germany and an author of the paper. “We can map the neural connectivity in the whole mouse in 3D.”