Over 35 million Americans take daily medications to reduce their cholesterol, and that number continues to increase. But thanks to new research from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, it’s possible that patients will be able to experience an improved quality of life with a single injection!
By disrupting gene activity in a gene (PCSK9) that regulates cholesterol, researchers were able to permanently reduce cholesterol by 35-40%. First, they targeted the DNA sequence where the gene resides, then created a break in the system, and then used adenovirus to carry the treatment to the liver. In one injection, they were able to permanently change the genome, meaning that the benefits are there forever.
While this treatment is probably at least 5-10 years away for humans, the accomplishment in mice is pretty amazing. The next step in this research is to work with mice that have human-derived liver cells before moving into human studies. Read more about it here:
Bone marrow is a complex tissue that, until now, could only be studied in living animals. Recently, Harvard researchers created “bone marrow on a chip” by reproducing the structure and function of bone marrow. Past efforts involving combining cells on an artificial surface have failed, because bone marrow is extremely complex. So researchers turned to animals for help. By creating a framework of bone powder and implanting it under the skin of an animal, the animal’s body did the work for them and created an impressive bone and marrow structure!
The engineered bone marrow could help researchers assess potential side effects of cancer treatments, observe the effects of drugs to prevent radiation poisoning, and even generate blood cells. It may even be possible to grow human bone marrow in immune-deficient mice!
Researchers work with animals because they often give more accurate information than cell cultures and computer simulations alone. From vaccine development to cancer treatments to joint replacement surgery, animals have been- and continue to be- extremely important in the effort to save lives. And now, animals are helping researchers create better alternatives, which could ultimately reduce the number of animals needed in research without compromising research outcomes. Good news for everyone!