Monthly Archives: July 2014

Spaying and neutering: are there long-term health effects?

iStock_000001760646SmallIt’s a well-known mantra: “Spay or neuter your pets.” The intention is usually to reduce the unwanted pet population by preventing pets from reproducing, but new research shows that spaying or neutering could contribute to other health problems.

Researchers investigated the incidences of several joint disorders (hip and elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tear) and cancers (lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors, and mammary cancer). They found an increase in the incidence of two joint disorders and three cancers in neutered or spayed dogs, and interestingly, they found that the dog’s breed makes a difference.

In both Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, the incidence of joint disorders in intact dogs is about 5%. From analyzing data from veterinary hospital records, researchers found that neutering Labradors at under six months of age doubled the incidence of joint disorders, and neutering Goldens at under six months of age increased the chance of a joint disorder to 4-5 times that of an intact dog. They also found that spaying female Goldens increased the incidence of other cancers by 3-4 times!

This is important information, because Labradors and Goldens are both very popular breeds, and understanding the associated risks of spaying or neutering should be important to pet owners. It’s also possible that research like this could prompt new recommendations for spaying and neutering, while taking the dog’s age and breed into account.

Responsible pet ownership is a hot topic, and spaying and neutering has been an invaluable part of reducing the numbers of unwanted pets that end up in shelters. What do you think? Have you spayed or neutered your pets? Why or why not?

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0102241

Hearing aids: do you hear what a FLY hears?

google free ormia ochraceaResearchers have created a new device that may be instrumental in creating the next generation of hearing aids. And the tiny animal that helped them do it? A fly.

Wondering what a fly has to do with hearing aids? Insects usually aren’t good at pinpointing the source of a sound because their bodies are so small that the sound hits both of their ears at just about the same time. But a certain fly- Ormia ochracea- has a unique sound-processing mechanism that adjusts for this, and the fly is incredibly accurate at determining the source of sounds.

Researchers have replicated the fly’s hearing mechanism in the form of a device that is only 2 mm wide. Many hearing aid users have problems sorting out noises, and this technology may be able to improve directional hearing aids and help users determine the direction of the sound much more accurately. Read more about it here:

http://www.engr.utexas.edu/news/7821-fly-hearing-device

Horseshoe crabs: Saving lives, all in a day’s work

pixabay horseshoe crabIf you have ever taken medication, received a vaccine, or had a surgical implant, you should thank a horseshoe crab. These prehistoric-looking animals are actually really important to modern medicine. But why?

It’s all about their blue blood. Mammals have hemoglobin in their blood, which contains iron- hence the red color. But horseshoe crabs transport oxygen through their bodies via hemocyanin, which contains copper, making their blood blue.

Even more interesting is a compound in the crab’s blood called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, or LAL. LAL binds to bacteria, viruses and fungi and acts to protect the animal’s system from infection. It’s worked pretty well- horseshoe crabs have been around since about 100 million years BEFORE the dinosaurs, and they’re still going strong!

This ability to bind endotoxins makes horseshoe crab blood incredibly useful- and valuable. LAL is the worldwide standard screening test for bacterial contamination, and it’s used to test drugs, vaccines and surgical implants. LAL can detect endotoxins as low as .1 parts per trillion!

The best part is that harvesting horseshoe crab blood doesn’t require the animals to be killed! The crabs are caught, blood is drawn, and they are put back into their environments, where their blood volume is replenished within about a week. Watch this video to see how it’s done, and read more about it here:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/crash-a-tale-of-two-species/the-benefits-of-blue-blood/595/

http://www.ksl.com/?sid=22797818

Remote-controlled sex just took on a whole new meaning

Sharing remote controlRemote controls and sex go together, like, well… remote controls and sex. What did you think this article was about?? Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re talking about science here!

That being said, sometimes science is a little risqué. And we love it that way! Take this new research, which definitely thinks outside the box. And as an added bonus, this science will likely improve the sex lives of a LOT of people.

Researchers are testing a remote-controlled birth control implant. This implant can last up to 16 years, and can be turned on and off with (you guessed it) a remote control. When the device is on, an electric charge melts the seal on the hormone reservoir, releasing the daily dose of levonorgestrel into the body. If the patient want to try to conceive, they simply turn the device off with their remote.

This would be a great long-term option for birth control because it would eliminate the potential for error that is common with current methods. It could also make a big difference in countries where birth control options are limited.

The implant has been tested in humans to deliver daily osteoporosis medication, and animal trials are underway for the hormone-delivering version. The goal is to have the device available by 2018. What do you think? Would you bring this particular remote control into YOUR sex life?

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28193720

Memory-restoring implant by 2017!

Molecular ThoughtsAn implantable neural device could restore memory in patients with Alzheimer’s! The Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding the development of this device, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UCLA, and Medtronic are going to work together to make it a reality.

The device will stimulate neural tissue to bridge gaps in the brain, making it possible for patients to access memories and also form new ones. This device could also help patients with TBI (traumatic brain injury). This closed-loop, wireless device will be implanted into the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex.

Neurostimulators were piloted in rodents and dogs before approved for human use, and it’s amazing to see the advances and the potential associated with this research. Patients suffering from Parkinson’s and chronic pain are already benefiting from this technology, and with the rising incidence of Alzheimer’s, the potential for treatment with this device is great news. The hope is to have this device in clinical trials by 2017. Read more about it here:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710175337.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Ftop_news%2Ftop_science+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Top+Science+News%29&utm_content=FaceBook

Do you hear what I hear?

pixabay earBy using a device that provides high-resolution images of the inner ear, researchers are learning about the mechanics of hearing. In order to develop therapies for hearing loss, it’s important to understand the functions of different areas of the cochlea, and until now, that hasn’t been very easy.

Because the cochlea is so small and difficult to access, researchers haven’t been able to study it very easily without causing damage to the ear. But by using this technology (OCT, or optical coherence tomography), researchers at Texas A&M and Stanford have been able to gather information about the way the cochlea converts vibrations into nerve impulses to create sound without having to open the bone around it.

The concept has been proven in mice, and researchers have been able to gather measurements without causing any damage to the mouse cochlea or surrounding tissues. A prototype device has been developed for human use. If researchers can map the human cochlea and determine what happens to the inner ear during progressive or traumatic loss, it’s possible that specific therapies for hearing loss will be able to be developed! Read more about it here:

http://engineering.tamu.edu/news/2014/07/07/applegate-inner-ear

Pregnancy, calories, and consequences

iStock_000014779137SmallNew research stresses the importance of a pregnant woman’s diet, and shows the possible consequences for her offspring. Through mouse studies, it was found that inadequate caloric intake in later stages of pregnancy can cause changes to occur in the sperm of her male offspring.

Epigenetic programming of the offspring’s sperm cells happens later in pregnancy, and when researchers cut caloric intake in half during this time, they found over 100 regions on the sperm that were developed differently than control mice.

In this type of research, animals were really important. In a controlled environment, researchers are able to make all conditions stable and only have one variable (caloric restriction in the last week of the mother’s gestation). This provides very solid evidence, because in humans, there are so many other variables that it would be difficult to determine the impact of the mother’s diet alone on the offspring. We know that the actions of both parents will contribute to the health of the children- there is evidence that a man’s health status can influence the health of his sperm, and in turn, can have consequences on offspring. This type of research wouldn’t have been possible in humans due to the number of variables involved, and it helped increase understanding of intergenerational gene transmission.

Why is this research important? Evidence that a mother’s actions will directly influence the outcome of her children will hopefully prompt more support for pregnant women in areas of the world where food availability is a problem. It also may provide more incentive for women to reconsider food choices during pregnancy. If restricting calories causes these problems, it’s likely that unhealthy eating could also be causing more issues that mothers might realize. Read more about it here:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40465/title/Gestational-Malnutrition-Affects-Offspring-s-Sperm/

Fertility options for male pediatric cancer patients on the horizon!

Dad's loveIn a novel approach at preserving fertility, researchers have successfully produced live offspring from cryopreserved testicle tissue.

You may think that cryopreserving testicle tissue is kind of a stretch- but many cancer patients undergoing treatments don’t have options when it comes to preserving fertility. Doctors can cryopreserve sperm if the patient has already reached puberty, but for young boys, that’s not an option.

By cryopreserving testicle tissue, researchers are able to thaw tissue at a later date and induce the production of sperm. This research was carried out in mice, and through artificial insemination, eight healthy offspring were produced! Amazingly, thawed tissue was able to produce sperm just as well as unfrozen tissue.

There’s still some work to be done before this research can be translated into humans. But as more and more pediatric cancer patients are being successfully cured of their diseases, this research could mean life-changing, long-term fertility options. Read more about it here:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/sns-rt-us-health-testicles-20140701,0,847490.story

Bone cancer vaccine gives hope to dogs AND humans

iStock_000016358177XSmallA trial at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine is introducing a groundbreaking treatment for dogs suffering from osteosarcoma. Dogs in the trial are receiving an experimental vaccine that trains the immune system to recognize tumor cells and to kill them- and it’s working!

More than 10,000 dogs are diagnosed each year with osteosarcoma, which is an aggressive type of bone cancer. Most dogs die within a year of diagnosis, but in this trial, many of the dogs in the study have survived for more than two years. Check out this video to see an update on Denali, a therapy dog enrolled in the trial.

The biology of canine osteosarcoma is the same as the biology of these tumors in children, so the information gained from this study could one day help children with osteosarcoma. There are also types of breast cancer that have similarities to osteosarcoma, so the human benefits aren’t limited to one type of cancer.

Researchers are looking for more dogs with osteosarcoma to participate in this trial. Does your dog qualify? If so, check out the link here for more information.

Animal Research: Is it Necessary?

iStock_000015264919SmallDrugs and treatments that are saving lives today are available to you and your family because of animal-based research. Yet animal rights supporters argue that animals aren’t necessary. However, researchers in the past and present have always looked for the most efficient and accurate models of drug discovery, and regardless of how much people want to argue about it, those methods have- and still do- involve animals.

Is it possible to gain the same results without animal research? For past research studies, this question is irrelevant. Animals have been crucial in the understanding of disease and in the development of drugs and treatments. No argument will change the fact that insulin, chemotherapy, joint replacements, and organ transplants (to name a few) were made possible through animal research. At the time of each of these developments, researchers used the best models available to them. Because of this, these advancements were developed as quickly as possible. All of these discoveries relied on animals because they were the best models for each of these respective types of research at the time. Without these models, is it possible that the same drugs and treatments would have been developed at some point? We don’t know. What we do know is that if researchers hadn’t used the best models available to them, the timeline for drug and treatment discovery would have been much longer. In 1922, insulin was first used to treat diabetic patients. At the time, diabetic children were kept in hospital wards where they often became comatose and slowly died. Without research in dogs, insulin development- if it was able to be developed at all- certainly would have been delayed, resulting in many more deaths.

In many cases, animals are still the best models for drug and treatment discovery. Currently, researchers are working on treatments and cures for pediatric cancers, blood disorders, rare diseases, and illnesses that affect millions of people. There’s a race to find cures and treatments for thousands of diseases, and researchers have every incentive to use the best options available to them to save lives as quickly as possible. The fact is that many of these research studies involve animals.

In the future, maybe we’ll be able to develop drugs and treatments of the same caliber without animals in the equation. That’s the goal, isn’t it? As an animal lover, I would certainly prefer it if animals weren’t necessary in research. But as a people lover, I am thankful that researchers and animals are working towards cures. You and I should want researchers to take advantage of the best models possible for drug and treatment discovery. If you have a loved one suffering from disease or illness, do you want to jeopardize their chance for a cure by sidestepping the most reliable research methods currently available? I certainly don’t.

Are animals still necessary in research? Right now, yes. Animal research is definitely a hot topic for debate, but nothing can be said that will negate the extremely valuable contributions made by animals in the past OR the continued contributions that are presently taking place. Until more efficient models for drug discovery are developed, animals continue to play an integral role in the quest to find cures for YOU and your loved ones.