Scientists target mosquitoes to fight Zika virus | Early vaccine candidates move into animal trials as Zika worries mount | Groundbreaking CRISPR research will build on studies of animal embryos
February 3, 2016
FBR Smartbrief

Top Story
Scientists target mosquitoes to fight Zika virus
Infant undergoing treatment for microcephaly.
Infant undergoing treatment for microcephaly. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The Zika virus was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization on Monday, and scientists hope to fight back by targeting the mosquito that transmits the virus: Aedes aegypti. One team is releasing mosquitoes that are genetically modified so their offspring will inherit a lethal gene, and early counts suggest the larval mosquito population in the area has declined by 82%. Another approach involves infecting mosquitoes with a bacterium that inhibits their ability to contract and transmit viruses, a technique that has shown efficacy against dengue, another Flavivirus. Experts hope the methods will give rise to an approach that is more effective than traditional mosquito control approaches. The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (2/4), The New York Times (free-article access for SmartBrief readers) (1/30), USA Today (2/1)
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Research Breakthroughs
Groundbreaking CRISPR research will build on studies of animal embryos
DNA strands from a double helix model.
(Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
A research team at the Francis Crick Institute led by biologist Kathy Niakan has gained UK approval to use the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique on human embryos to learn more about how embryos implant and develop. The goal is to better understand and possibly thwart miscarriages and infertility. The technology has been explored in animal models, but its use in human embryos has been approached with caution. The embryos in Niakan's study will not be used to establish a pregnancy. Rather, Niakan and her team hope to build on research using mouse embryos that shed light on the genetic basis of embryo development. (2/1), Vox (2/1)
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Researchers correct canine blood disorder with gene therapy
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia researchers have corrected factor VII deficiency in dogs and reported their findings in the journal Blood. One in 300,000 to 500,000 people have the same deficiency, which results in low levels of factor VII, an important clotting molecule, in dogs and people. By injecting the dogs with an inactivated virus carrying DNA for factor VII production, the researchers induced measurable production of the protein that was maintained in one dog followed for three years. The Philadelphia Inquirer (1/27)
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ALS progression stopped in animal models
Oregon State University researchers were able to halt amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in mice, according to work published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease. A mutation in the coding for an enzyme is involved in the pathology of ALS, a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disorder. The researchers administered copper-ATSM, a compound already used in patients and well tolerated at high doses in animal models. Treated mice lived close to two years, when they would have otherwise been expected to die within weeks. Researchers hope to begin human trials. The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) (2/2), The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) (2/1), RedOrbit (1/29)
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Unique stem cells could help repair skull damage, mouse study finds
The bones of the skull have unique stem cells found nowhere else in the body, according to a mouse study published in Nature Communications. Researchers studying the genetic basis of bone formation and regeneration and the cause of craniosynostosis in mice characterized the stem cells. The authors said the findings could lead to new diagnostics and treatments for people with skull abnormalities by allowing scientists to rebuild bones. U.S. News & World Report/HealthDay News (2/2)
Mice without Y chromosome can still father fertile males, study finds
Researchers reported in the journal Science that male mice that lack a Y chromosome can still produce fertile male offspring. The findings have implications for men who are dealing with infertility. As long as the mice have genes encoding testes determining factor and spermatogonial proliferation factor, they can sire fertile male offspring. Those animals can reproduce, too. "This is good news because it suggests that there are back-up strategies within genomes, which are normally silent but are capable of taking over under certain circumstances," researcher Monika Ward said. The Independent (London) (tiered subscription model) (1/28)
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Scientists link autism to mother's inflammatory response during pregnancy
Researchers published data in Science linking autism to inflammatory mediators encountered in utero. They found that blocking interleukin 17, an immune effector molecule produced by TH17 cells, in pregnant mice prevented autism-like changes in offspring. The results were similar when the team blocked IL-17 production and when they treated the pregnant mice with antibodies to inactivate IL-17. The Scientist online (1/31)
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Other News
What Do You Think?
Last week, FBR SmartBrief asked readers about Zika virus research:
President Barack Obama has called for urgent action on the development of vaccines and treatments to fight the Zika virus. What role will lab animal models play in stopping the spread of Zika?
Animal models will play an integral role in developing vaccines and treatments to stop the spread of Zika.  93.55%
Animal models will play some role in stopping the spread of Zika.  5.38%
Animal models will not be necessary to stop the spread of Zika.  1.08%
Animal Health
Research seeks to unravel secrets of canine illness and aging
Old dog.
(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
University of Washington researchers are collecting genetic and environmental data on 10,000 dogs to identify mechanisms behind age-related illness such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and kidney problems. "The big picture behind what we're trying to do is to understand the aging process so we can delay the onset and progression of all these diseases," said researcher Matt Kaeberlein. "It's sort of a fundamental shift from the traditional medical approach, which is to wait until dogs -- or people -- are sick, and then try to treat the disease." The Sacramento Bee (Calif.) (tiered subscription model)/Universal Uclick (1/29)
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FBR News
How research institutions are advancing the fight against Zika
In response to the emerging Zika virus outbreak, which the World Health Organization has declared a "public health emergency," the Foundation for Biomedical Research has created an overview of efforts to treat the disease and control the spread of the virus. Both public and private research institutions are racing to mitigate the damage and are issuing calls for effective animal models with which to test new treatments. Read FBR’s latest blog post on Zika.
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