How Animals Help
The vast majority of animals studied in research are mice and rats (90%-95%). Scientists need other animal models as well, and major breakthroughs have been made and are in the process of being made thanks to studies conducted with these animals:
The armadillo is one of the only animals besides the monkey and mouse in which the leprosy bacillus grows. Through research with armadillos, scientists strive to develop a preventative treatment or vaccination against leprosy to be used in areas of the world where leprosy is still prevalent.
Scientists from Texas are batty over a new discovery which could lead to the single most important medical breakthrough in human history – significantly longer lifespans. The discovery shows that proper protein folding over time in long-lived bats explains why they live significantly longer than other mammals of comparable size, such as mice. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 6/30/09.
New research with cats is helping to shed scientific light on various human skin disorders. The Medical News, 1/18/10.
Neurotoxins from cone snails and spiders are helping neurobiologists to investigate the function of ion channels in neurons. Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, 2/10/10.
Few things fascinate Dr. John Byrne more than memories and the mechanisms that create them. Byrne, who heads the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, leads a research team studying snails devoted to discovering the neurobiology of learning and memory. Houston Chronicle, 1/31/10.
A new Mayo Clinic study may help physicians differentially diagnose three common neurodegenerative disorders in the future. The study will be presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease on July 11 in Vienna.
Because their cardiovascular and respiratory systems resemble those of people, dogs have been invaluable to our understanding of healthy and diseased states of the heart and lungs. For example, dogs were vital to the development of angioplasty as a treatment or preventive measure for heart attacks and other heart conditions in humans. In angioplasty, a tiny tube is surgically threaded through the femoral artery in the leg to unblock the coronary arteries that surround the heart, thus enabling the blood to pump more freely.
Dogs are possibly the most varied-looking mammal species on the planet. It’s this diversity of looks that make man’s best friend the perfect laboratory for connecting sets of genes to particular traits and understanding the molecular mechanisms that govern variation in dogs as well as humans and other mammals. Yahoo! News, 3/1/10.
CDC’s Daniel Jernigan says experiments with ferrets done there suggest that the current vaccine has no power against the H1N1 strain of swine flu now circulating the globe. Science, 4/29/10.
At Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, scientists are working to find clues about how the human brain processes memories. Their laboratory test animal is not a chimp or a dog or a rat – animals that we know can remember things – it is the common fruit fly. Voice of America, 3/17/10.
Scientists at the Hopkins School of Medicine’s Center for Sensory Biology now have a greater understanding of the workings of the fruit fly’s eye, an understanding that may one day help human patients suffering from degenerative diseases of the retina. JHU Newsletter, 3/5/10.
Scientists seeking understanding of the human aging process say they have found important new evidence in fruit flies. The research helps explain why a life-extension therapy works in mice, and theoretically could work in humans. North County Times (San Diego), 3/5/10.
The signaling molecule CD95L, known as “death messenger,” causes an inflammatory process in injured tissue after spinal cord injuries and prevents its healing. In mice, researchers found out that if they switch off CD95L, the injured spinal cord heals and the animals regain better ability to move. EurekAlert, 3/3/10.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have developed a vaccine that reverses an experimental form of Parkinson’s disease in mice. Omaha World-Herald, 3/1/10.
Exenatide, a drug that is a synthetic form of a substance found in Gila monster saliva, led to healthy sustained glucose levels and progressive weight loss among people with type 2 diabetes who took part in a three-year study. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 7/12/07.
Scientists working with guinea pigs say they’ve shown how an experimental drug might restore the function of nerves damaged in spinal cord injuries. UPI, 11/23/09.
Scientists studying guinea pigs believe they are a step closer to curing tinnitus after they have found what could be the root cause of ringing in the ears. BBC, 3/25/09.
Scientists looking for ways to repair damaged cartilage are employing horses to test a new method of tissue regeneration that uses concentrated stem cells. This new procedure is being tested on former racehorses and rodeo horses to determine if it is more effective than a commonly used cartilage repair treatment in the U.S. called “microfracture.” The Wall Street Journal, 1/4/10.
Horseshoe crab blood carries a clotting agent that can isolate bacterial toxins – and the federal Food and Drug Administration requires that it be used to test all intravenous drugs and vaccines for safety. Food and Drug Law Journal (Korwek)
Scientists working with leeches say they’ve made a discovery that might lead to new treatments for central nervous system maladies such as Parkinson’s disease. UPI, 4/18/08.
Mice are used more often than any other animal in research.
New research with mice has revealed a major breakthrough in the use of cough medicine ingredient noscapine as a prophylactic treatment for prostate cancer. MedInsight Research Institute, 3/19/10.
Instead of killing off cancer cells with toxic drugs, scientists working with mice have discovered a molecular pathway that forces them to grow old and die, they said on Wednesday. Reuters, 3/17/10.
An experimental oral drug has lowered blood sugar levels and inflammation in mice with Type 2 diabetes, suggesting that the medication could someday be added to the arsenal of drugs used by millions of Americans with this disease, according to new research. Ohio State University, 3/17/10.
Researchers in Gothenburg have developed a promising new vaccine against genital herpes, with successful tests on mice offering hope of an STD-free future for millions. This is Local (Sweden), 3/17/10.
An Ottawa research team has discovered a way to treat the No. 1 genetic killer in infants. The study, published in Human Molecular Genetics, found that controlling a specific enzyme in the cells of mice could significantly reduce the effects of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and increase longevity. Ottawa Citizen (Canada), 3/16/10.
A new mouse study suggests that a treatment aimed at immune system could work in humans. HealthDay News, 3/15/10.
A research team working with mice has discovered that blood vessels and muscles in the heart can regulate the uptake of fatty acids from our diet, and has worked out how they do this. Cordis, 3/16/10.
Dramamine, which is typically used to treat motion sickness, could help patients suffering from heart disease, according to new research with rats and mice. Discovery, 3/15.
Scientists have found the “mother,” or origin, of all skin cells and say their discovery could dramatically improve skin treatments for victims of serious wounds and burns. They conducted a study in mice and found that the stem cell that produces all the different cells of the skin actually lives in hair follicles. Reuters, 3/12/10.
In an apparent world first, Japanese researchers have succeeded in producing intestine from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells in mice, which can develop into various types of cells in the body. Mainichi Daily News (Japan), 3/11/10.
Freezing a malignant tumor not only kills it, but may also stop the cancer from spreading, according to new research with mice. New York Daily News, 3/5/10.
Monkeys and other non-human primates represent less than one percent of all animals used in research, but they have contributed to major medical breakthroughs due to their physiological similarities to people. Primate studies have led to the deciphering of many of the complex mechanics of AIDS, and have helped in the understanding of the function of brain cell clusters in Alzheimer patients.
Rhesus monkey babies born to mothers who had the flu while pregnant had smaller brains and showed other brain changes similar to those observed in human patients with schizophrenia, a study has found. UNC Chapel Hill, 3/11/10.
Pigs have been instrumental in the treatment of burns and the study of the healing process of burns. Today, pieces of pig skin tissue are used as temporary bandages to cover serious burns on firefighters and other burn victims. The bandage protects the burn patient from contracting a serious or even life-threatening infection, and allows the person’s own skin to regenerate.
Veterinary research into tapeworm control in pigs through vaccination has the potential to reduce serious disease in developing nations where humans and pigs live in close quarters. Science Alert, 3/8/10.
Bone marrow stem cells suspended in X-ray-visible microbubbles dramatically improve the body’s ability to build new blood vessels in the upper leg-providing a potential future treatment for those with peripheral arterial disease or PAD, say researchers working with rabbits. Society of Interventional Radiology, 3/16/10.
The first successful human womb transplant could take place within two years, scientists have said. Experts say they have worked out how to transplant a womb with a regular blood supply so it will last long enough to carry a pregnancy. Research involving donor rabbits was presented at a fertility conference. BBC News, 10/22/09.
Studies with rats have led to advances in the understanding of tissue rejection and transplant biology. By studying how the rat body accepts or rejects transplanted pancreas, skin, heart, kidney, or bone marrow, scientists have helped medical doctors successfully perform life-saving transplants in human adults and children.
Spanish researchers determined that rats treated with recombinant ghrelin displayed a reduction in liver fibrosis. Ghrelin, a stomach hormone, reduced the amount of fibrogenic cells by 25% in the treated rodents. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, 3/18/10.
Some kids seem to have near-constant ear infections. Even after the pain is gone, a parent’s got to wonder: Are there lasting effects from all that muffling of sound in the formative years? Research with rats just published in the journal Neuron suggests there might be. NPR, 3/15/10.
By studying brain activity in rats, scientists have discovered that the information played out during the brain replay process depends on the task the animal is facing. EurekAlert, 3/11/10.
Doctors treat millions of children with Ritalin every year to improve their ability to focus on tasks, but scientists studying rats now report that Ritalin also directly enhances the speed of learning. UCSF, 3/8/10.
The body’s internal clock helps to regulate a water-storing hormone so that nightly dehydration or trips to the toilet are not the norm, research with rats suggests. Nature, 2/28/10.
The heart cells of the Mexican salamander provide a mystery and challenge to cardiovascular scientists. Isolated salamander heart cells will divide in a culture dish, and scientists are trying to understand the mechanics of this cell division. Once the mechanics are understood, researchers hope to apply this knowledge to the heart cells in people, which do not regenerate after a heart attack. Researchers are also studying the salamander’s ability to regrow amputated limbs and organs.
Salamanders have the ability to regrow amputated limbs – but what stops a tail growing from the stump, instead of a leg? A team of scientists are now a step closer to the answer. Nature, 7/1/09.
Probing the salamander genome reveals clues to its remarkable ability to regrow damaged limbs and organs. MIT Technology Review, 8/18/08.
A new surgical procedure, developed with the help of sheep, can repair severe bone injuries and defects more quickly and simply than current methods, which include bone-grafting operations and lengthening procedures that involve inserting pins through the skin to pull bones together. MIT Technology Review, 3/10/10.
It’s hard to miss the huge eye of a squid. But now it appears that certain squids can detect light through an organ other than their eyes as well. University of Wisconsin, 6/3/09.
The Japanese bobtail squid and luminescent marine bacteria live in blissful harmony. The way bacteria form this symbiotic relationship may now shed light of another kind, on human disease. New Scientist, 2/10/09.
Prairie voles, the furry rodents found in tall-grass fields in the U.S. Midwest, may help scientists unlock age-old mysteries underlying human desire for companionship, sex and even the accumulation of wealth. Bloomberg News, 10/12/09.
Scientists have pinpointed a key brain chemical involved in dealing with the sudden loss or long-term separation of a partner. The finding in a type of rodent called a prairie vole could lead to potential treatments for people suffering severe depression-like symptoms after losing a partner. Reuters, 10/15/08.
Researchers studying worms have discovered new information on a gene that is involved in the development of Joubert syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the brain stem. The team hopes that the results will lead to a greater understanding of a range of cerebellar disorders. Cordis, 3/23/10.
A team of biophysicists has made a surprising discovery: Nearly all of the nematode’s various movements can be reproduced by adding four basic patterns of motion. Science, 3/18/10.
The study of simple roundworms is helping explain the stem cell’s ability to develop into any cell type in the body, scientists have announced. UPI, 1/12/10.
Researchers have developed a way to propel and direct microscopic-sized worms along a narrow channel using a mild electric field. The discovery opens up significant possibilities for developing high-throughput micro-screening devices for drug discovery and other applications. ScienceDaily, 1/6/10.
Zebrafish are one of the most promising models for the study of early vertebrate development and gene function. Its embryo shares many structural and behavioral features with our human embryo. Studies with Zebrafish embryos help scientists understand how whole organisms develop from the single-celled embryo.
A new method of growing arteries could lead to a “biological bypass” – or a non-invasive way to treat coronary artery disease, researchers working with mice and zebrafish report with their colleagues in the April issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation. Innovations Report, 3/10/10.
A study into why some people are more resistant than others to diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and leprosy has identified a new genetic variant which affects susceptibility to these diseases. The findings, using zebrafish, may have implications for future treatments for the two conditions. Wellcome Trust, 3/4/10.
Current Models – used with permission from “TOTAL E-CLIPS”, from the Foundation for Biomedical Research, http://www.fbresearch.org/