Monthly Archives: February 2014

Vaccines, autism, and the link that doesn’t exist

Little baby get an injectionEvery once in awhile, stories start circulating about a link between vaccines and autism. And parents everywhere start to freak out. It’s not surprising that this issue evokes such strong feelings- I would freak out, too, if I hadn’t done my research.

Back up- a bit of history. In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed to have found a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Read more about it here. Turns out, he was being paid by lawyers who were trying to sue vaccine manufacturers, his work was never able to be replicated, and he misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 patients in his study. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license in 2010, and his work was considered fraudulent.

But the damage had been done. Parents everywhere freaked out; as soon as Wakefield started promoting his results to the media, vaccination rates in the U.K. dropped dramatically, and Europe faced a measles epidemic in 2008.

There has been plenty of credible, scientific research to show that vaccines aren’t linked to autism. And it should make you feel better that scientists continue to work with mice and rats to determine vaccine safety. Bonus- rats are actually extremely helpful in understanding autism, as well.

Moms, I get you- the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your child’s health! But in order to make the best decision for your family, listen to the science behind the arguments. Before you circulate articles meant to sway someone towards a medical decision that could impact THEIR child’s health, make sure you know what you’re talking about first!

Do you agree? Then SHARE this on social media! One biased, anti-vax article with no scientific evidence can get 10,000 shares. If you like this post, please share, share, share, and let’s get the word out there!


Alzheimer’s Disease, mice, and miracles

iStock_000004804600MediumAlzheimer’s Disease is devastating. I know this; I’ve seen the effects of Alzheimer’s in my own family. Currently, there is no cure for this disease that affects over 5 million Americans. And by 2050, that number could triple. The cost of this disease is staggering- and that doesn’t just include the estimated cost to the U.S. of $203 billion in 2013, or the projected $1.2 trillion that it will cost us by 2050. I’m talking about the cost of watching your loved ones slowly forget who you are, who they are, and everything they’ve spent their lives working to achieve. If you’ve been touched by this disease, you know what I mean. This is a disease that’s worth fighting. With everything we’ve got.

Animal rights activists argue that we can’t learn anything from animals. But that’s simply not true. By working with Alzheimer’s mouse models, researchers are learning how the disease starts, and they’re already working on ways to develop early treatments that could benefit humans. This type of research would be impossible to carry out in humans; by the time humans begin to show clinical signs of the disease, significant damage has already being done. We want hope; we want cures; we want a future; we want a miracle. That’s where the mice come in.


Ovarian cancer patients experiencing fewer toxic effects from chemo!

Medical Team Meeting With Couple In Hospital RoomA clinical trial in human patients with ovarian cancer has shown some promising results. All patients in this study were undergoing chemotherapy, but some received high doses of intravenous vitamin C as well. After following these patients for five years, it was found that the patients who received vitamin C experienced fewer toxic effects from chemo!

That’s pretty good news. And this is an interesting example of animal research at work. Years ago, oral doses of vitamin C weren’t found to be effective. But by working with a combination of cell cultures and animals, researchers were able to determine that IV doses could be much more effective than oral doses, and they found that at high doses, vitamin C can kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. Often, drugs administered by different routes can work in different ways- when taken orally, vitamin C is often absorbed quickly and doesn’t stay in your system for long. So animals played a big role in understanding the proper route of administration, and now human patients will be seeing the benefits of that work!

Now that safety and toxicity studies have been performed, expect to see this therapy introduced into further clinical trials! Are you interested in clinical trials in your area? Go to!

Read more:

Your dog really DOES understand you!

Boy hugging his dogAs humans, we use ‘voice areas’ in our brains to recognize who is talking and determine the speaker’s emotion. The question: Do dogs process voices in the same way? Are dogs in tune to their owners’ emotions? The dog is often referred to as ‘man’s best friend.’ And new research is proving just how right that is!

It turns out that dogs also have dedicated ‘voice areas’ in their brains- and they’re in the same location as a human’s voice area. In a study looking at how dogs process different sounds, researchers in Hungary trained dogs (golden retrievers and border collies) to lie still in an MRI machine during brain scans while listening to dog and human sounds.

The study found that both humans and dogs were able to read the emotions of the other species correctly, and both responded to the emotions of the other species in similar ways.

What does this mean? Maybe the dog is man’s best friend because he really GETS us. If you own a dog, you’ve probably experienced this before. And now, when you think your dog is recognizing that you’re happy or sad, you can rest assured that you’re probably right!,0,7375654.story#axzz2u0H82AuT

Breast cancer and a “sticky” situation

iStock_000011352024SmallCancer cells, unfortunately, can be pretty efficient at spreading. This is partly due to their “sticky” characteristics, which makes them better at invading new areas in the body. But researchers in London have identified a gene that is responsible for making breast cancer cells sticky- and this could be a big deal!

By switching off different genes in breast tumors that were grown in mice, they were able to identify a particular gene, called ST6GaINAc2 (we’ll call it ST6 for short), that contributes to tumor formation. When it’s active, ST6 prevents cancer cells from binding to the proteins that are responsible for giving them their sticky characteristics. But when ST6 gene activity is low, the cells pick up these proteins, become sticky, and spread more efficiently.

Figuring out how breast cancer spreads is really important. If researchers can identify patients with low ST6 gene activity, they might be able to treat these patients with a drug that can replicate ST6′s ability to make tumor cells less sticky. And preventing cancer cells from ‘sticking’ is good for everyone!

Read about it here:

This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at sticky cells- check out this link to see how sticky particles have been used to kill cancer cells!

Cats and understanding obesity- there’s an important link!

iStock_000004772370SmallThere are over 1,000 X-linked genes, including the genes for red-green color blindness, hemophilia, male pattern baldness, and body fat distribution. And if you remember your high school genetics, males have one “X” and one “Y” chromosome, and females have two “X” chromosomes.

Since females have two “X” chromosomes, only one of the X chromosomes will be expressed in any given cell. The determination of which one is expressed is random. Tortoiseshell and calico cats (all females) are the perfect example- they have a gene for orange fur on one of their X chromosomes, and a gene for black fur on the other. Their random coat patterns are due to the random expression of X-chromosomes; areas where the fur is black express the X-chromosome with the black fur gene, and areas where the fur is orange express the X-chromosome with the orange fur gene.

OK, so the cats look pretty awesome. But it doesn’t stop there. Researchers are working with calico cats to try to understand how X-chromosomes are inactivated, in an attempt to figure out a way to turn certain genes on or off in a way that isn’t random. How cool would it be if genes linked to obesity or other diseases could be selectively silenced without altering a person’s DNA? Or if X-chromosome linked disorders could be silenced in a way that they wouldn’t be passed down to our offspring?

tortoiseshell cat pixabayRead more here:

New “mouse trap” for cancer cells could revolutionize glioblastoma treatment!

3d rendered illustration - brain tumorGlioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer that can be difficult to treat. The tumors are often located in inaccessible areas, making surgery impossible. So researchers in Atlanta got creative and figured out a way to make the cancer cells more accessible. And their technique is not unlike the concept of a mouse trap- but for this one, rats helped figure it out!

Glioblastoma cells migrate along nerves and blood vessels. And researchers used that information to their advantage by creating a small rod that mimics the shape of these nerves and blood vessels. Through animal studies in rats, they’ve shown that the cancer cells then ‘take the bait’ and migrate along this rod. At the end of the rod, the cells are met with a cancer-killing drug. So instead of delivering drugs to the tumor, the tumor comes to the drug!

This could make a huge difference for patients with inoperable tumors. Not only could this cancer cell “mouse trap” lure cells into an area that would be easier for doctors to access, but it could also work by shrinking slow-growing tumors to the point where they wouldn’t be able to do as much damage. Let’s hope that this treatment makes its way into human trials quickly!

New leukemia treatment might be able to prevent relapses

iStock_000006901657XSmallResearchers at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) in Montreal have identified a key gene (called Brg1) that regulates leukemia stem cells. What’s more- they’ve figured out a way to disarm it!

This isn’t an easy thing to figure out. Sometimes, when cancer cells are targeted, normal cells are also damaged because the genes involved in regulating cancer cells may also be essential in normal cell function. They need to know exactly what the gene does in order to figure out what they can- and can’t- do with it.

But how do they figure this out? You certainly wouldn’t want to try to shut down a gene in a human patient without fully understanding what you’re doing. This is a great example of the importance of animal-based research. Cell cultures can definitely tell you a lot, but when you want to find out how a treatment is going to affect an entire living system, animals are truly life-savers.

And based on animal and cell studies, it looks like normal blood cells don’t need Brg1 to function! More work is needed before moving into clinical trials, but this could definitely be life-changing. The cancer stem cells that Brg1 regulates are more resistant to treatments, and the ability to turn them off could make treating leukemia easier and also help prevent relapses without damaging normal cells!

Read more about this exciting research:

Don’t look now- but organ transplants are about to be REVOLUTIONIZED!

iStock_000021023060SmallOn average, a heart or a lung kept on ice will only last about 6 hours outside of the body. The organs suffer some damage during this time, so the chances of transplant success decrease as time passes. This severely limits the ability for a recipient to be able to receive donor organs- a team needs to be able to deliver the organ to the recipient’s location in a relatively short period of time, so it’s impossible for a patient in New York to receive a heart from a donor in Hawaii. And unfortunately, desperately needed donor organs are sometimes wasted because there are no potential recipients within range to accept them. 

But that may be about to change. Meet TransMedics’s Organ Care System. This amazing machine can pump oxygenated blood through hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys- AND monitor their performance! This could potentially increase the window of opportunity for recipients by keeping organs viable for longer periods of time, and improve patient outcomes by giving doctors a better idea of the chances of success for the transplanted organ!

Thanks to animal-based research that started over 100 years ago, the success of long-term tissue grafts and the ability to minimize organ rejection has saved many lives. The limitation was ice; and if study results are positive, the Organ Care System could revolutionize organ transplants!

Watch these videos of a lung and a heart in the machine- it’s amazing!

Are there animals in YOUR medicine cabinet?

Dog and pills.How have animals helped YOU today? If you’re not familiar with research, you might not have any idea. But did you know that most of our medical advances wouldn’t have been possible without animals? It’s amazing to learn about the ways they’ve helped us!

Antibiotic ointment, aspirin, cold medicines, penicillin, anti-depressants, blood pressure and cholesterol medications, insulin, anti-coagulants, anesthesia, HIV drugs, chemotherapy, dialysis, CT scans, MRIs, prosthetics, organ transplants, and thousands of other medications and procedures were developed and determined to be safe for your use, thanks to dedicated researchers and the animals they work with.

The list goes on. I will guarantee that every person reading this has benefited from at least some of these advances. What’s more, I’ll bet your pets have benefited as well! And that’s a wonderful thing! Think of the symptoms we can alleviate due to medications, the life-threatening emergencies that we can SURVIVE, and the illnesses that our children may never get, thanks to vaccines. Polio, measles, cervical cancer, rabies, chicken pox, whooping cough, tetanus, Hepatitis B- and that’s just the beginning of the list!

EMBRACE it. Be thankful for it. The next time you reach into your medicine cabinet, take a minute to think about the scientific advances that led to the development of the medication that’s about to help you!