Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hair loss solutions in 3D

bald head isolatedBalding in humans occurs when hair follicles stop producing new hair. Genetics, disease, and medications such as chemotherapy can all cause hair loss. Currently, there aren’t many options for those dealing with hair loss, and until now, while it was possible in mice, it hadn’t been possible for researchers to produce new follicles from human skin cells. But based on observations of animal cells, researchers found that mouse dermal cells grew in clumps, where human cells didn’t. From this observation, they started to try to figure out a way to make the human cells clump like the mouse cells did- and by using a new 3-D culture method, they succeeded! With this new method, human cells stuck together in such a way that new hair follicles began to form when the cells were grafted into human skin on mice! This research is in its early stages, and it hasn’t been determined if the follicles will be able to re-grow hair, but this is a great step towards finding a solution to hair loss!

New treatment alleviates chronic pain for man’s best friend!

istock dog and girlA dog is an important part of your family, and no one wants their dog to suffer! Near the end of my childhood companion’s life, watching her deteriorate was heartbreaking. So any advances in veterinary medicine that can allow our pets to be comfortable and relieve pain is good news! New research using a neurotoxin injection has proven successful in easing severe, chronic pain caused by late-stage bone cancer in dogs. Chronic pain is an issue that can severely affect quality of life.

This is a great example of animal research at its best. Not only was this therapy successful in dogs, but because the evolution of canine bone cancer pain is very similar to that in humans, information about what works and what doesn’t is extremely helpful in the development of new human drugs. Chronic pain in human cancer patients is a serious issue, as well, and it’s possible that humans will also be able to benefit from the same type of treatments that have helped dogs. Kind of gives a new meaning to “man’s best friend” when the research in dogs may one day help YOU!



Research and patients: Understanding helps everyone!

Double portraitIt’s a great question: How much do patients actually know about animals in research, specifically, as they relate to advances in their own diseases or ailments?

Genetic Alliance UK and Understanding Research teamed up to find out. They held sessions at local universities and invited members of families affected by different genetic conditions. Patients and family members were able to go behind the scenes to see the animals, the caretakers, and the researchers at work.

Visitors were pleasantly surprised by the high standards of care, the bond between the staff and the animals, the strict rules and regulations, and the honesty and candor of the research staff they encountered! Now, attendees are learning how to discuss what they learned with the public, in an attempt to explain a patient’s perspective of animals in research.

This is such a great way to get people connected with research! We often hear from people either in the field of research or far removed from it, but giving patients a better understanding of where their treatments originate could allow us to hear from a whole new type of voice.

Do you know what research led to the development of treatments that have helped you or your family members? I urge you to look into it- a better understanding of the process can only help us all!

Oreos: Even rats can’t eat just one!

Photo from

Photo from

A research study at Connecticut College showed that high-sugar foods can stimulate the brain in the same way drugs do. In a study with rats, Oreos actually activated more neurons in the brain’s pleasure center than cocaine or morphine did! So why is this significant? By showing that high-fat and high-sugar foods can be addictive, this may be able to shed some light on addictive eating habits in humans- and may give parents another good reason to limit sweets.

It’s important to note that they did not compare Oreos directly with morphine or cocaine. The results simply showed the similarity of the animals’ reactions and supported the theory that high-fat and high-sugar foods can have very addictive qualities. Similar results would likely have been obtained by using ANY high-fat/ high-sugar food, but Oreos were used because they are so popular (America’s favorite cookie!).

If given a choice, I would certainly give my child a package of cookies instead a bag of cocaine- but I will definitely be limiting the number of cookies from now on!


Mythbusters: Doubting animals as effective models of human disease

Medion   DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a common argument, and one that we’ve probably all heard. “90% of drugs deemed successful in animal studies fail in human clinical trials.” Activists say this to discredit animal-based research and argue that animals are not acceptable models for human disease.

Well… let’s look at the numbers. While it’s true that up to 90% of potential drugs are unsuccessful, that percentage includes drugs that are found to be unsafe using many different methods, including human trials- and many of these are abandoned for reasons unrelated to safety, including cost of development, demand, and litigation. Without animal research, the failure rate would be much higher.

Here’s a fun fact- 86% of drugs that pass Phase I human trials later fail in human tests. But that doesn’t mean that humans are unacceptable models for human disease- it simply means that we’re all different. A drug that is successful in treating one person’s disease could be completely ineffective on their sibling. And this is an excellent argument FOR animal-based research! If researchers only tested new drugs on humans, the variations between individuals would be extremely confounding to study results. But by working with genetically similar animals that are well-understood, disease processes and drug interactions are able to be more accurately documented. Look at the research for yourself- what do YOU think?

Could a breast cancer vaccine be possible?

iStock_000014540692XSmallBreast cancer treatment can come at such a huge cost that researchers are constantly looking for ways to prevent it. Could a breast cancer vaccine be possible?

In order to develop a vaccine, you need something to target- like a virus or bacteria. A virus called HMTV (human mammary tumor virus) is found in about 40% of breast tumors. Viruses can certainly cause cancer- look at HPV and Hepatitis B, for example.  If researchers determine that HMTV causes cancer (this is yet unknown), they would have a target for vaccine development. So yes, a vaccine could be possible.

While scientists are already using personalized cancer vaccines for breast cancer patients, made from a patient’s immune cells (in the hope of preventing tumors from spreading), a true vaccine that could prevent breast cancer cases caused by a virus would be life-changing.

New grants from the National Breast Cancer Coalition and the Avon Foundation for Women will help researchers look for clues within tumor genomes. And undoubtedly, mouse models of breast cancer will be extremely important in the understanding and possible development of such a vaccine.

Read more here:

Trial malaria vaccine protects thousands of children

iStock_000001797617XSmallMalaria is a disease that is spread by mosquitos, and in Africa, it kills almost 600,000 people each year- mostly children. But a large-scale malaria vaccine clinical trial involving over 15,000 infants and children in Africa has shown some promising results! There was a 46% reduction in the number of malaria cases in children who were between 5 months and 17 months old at their first vaccination, and a 27% reduction in the number of cases in children who were 6-12 weeks old at first vaccination. Fewer cases of severe malaria as well as fewer hospitalizations for the disease were also reported.

While more information can still be gained from further follow-up visits, if everything falls into place, the World Health Organization could issue a recommendation for the vaccine in 2015. And that’s good news for everyone!

Why computer models can’t replace animals in research

Computer ratIn the field of biomedical research, animal research is an extremely important component in the development of new drugs, vaccines, treatments, and medical procedures. The information learned from animals is responsible for saving and improving the lives of countless people every day.

Some argue that today’s computer models of living systems are complex enough that they should be able to replace the use of animals in research. However, it’s important to understand that computer simulations are based on our existing knowledge of the living body and diseases. This current knowledge- which was gained through animal research- is constantly changing and improving. As animal models are able to provide more insight into disease processes and unlocking genomic information, the latest version of the computer model would quickly become obsolete.

Because of this, computer models by themselves cannot be successful without the information that animal research can contribute. But using computer models along with animal research can certainly help progress medical science. For a better understanding of the importance of animal model research, check out the links below.

Rare diseases gain needed attention

iStock_000008847188XSmall“Rare diseases” are those that affect less than 200,000 people in the United States. Because these diseases aren’t as common, recruitment for clinical trials tends to be difficult, and patients are usually limited in treatment options. But as there are currently over 7,000 diseases that fall into this category, one in ten Americans is affected, making rare diseases pretty significant.

Pharmaceutical companies to the rescue! Currently, 452 new medicines and vaccines for rare diseases are in development- either currently in human clinical trials or under FDA review. Included in these new drugs are drugs that will be useful for genetic disorders, infectious diseases, Lou Gehrig’s disease, leukemia, and other types of cancer- including pediatric cancers.

As many rare diseases affect children, this is good news for everyone! As a bonus, researchers find that understanding rare diseases can often provide insight into more common disorders. Biomedical research to the rescue…


Meerkats: Murderers that Engage in Indentured Servitude??

meerkat istockWell, sometimes research can have unexpected results. Case in point: meerkats. Cute, cuddly, friendly little African mammals that raised Animal Planet’s ratings for 3 years, right? Not so much…

Meerkat groups, or mobs, are run by an alpha male and female, who are the only meerkats “allowed” to breed. So what happens when subordinate females happen to sneak in a little action on the side and deliver their own litters? Alpha mom retaliates by murdering the illegitimate pups and then forcing the grieving subordinate females to either leave the colony or nurse and raise her own pups instead.

While there’s certainly an advantage to the alpha female to ensure that only her pups survive, subordinate females definitely get the raw end of the deal. It seems, though, that the alternative of being forced out of the colony poses such great danger and stress that in order to be allowed to stay, the subordinate females will allow themselves to be enslaved as punishment for their “illegal” roll in the hay.

Behavioral research like this is always important, because it helps us understand animals’ social hierarchies and group dynamics. In captivity, animals don’t always display the same behaviors, and conservation efforts depend on these insights into their natural behaviors in the wild.

Meerkats- I’ll bet you won’t look at them the same way again!