The promise of gene editing for human health, animal research and conservation | Chemical reverses Alzheimer's symptoms in mice | Animal studies drive new thinking on heredity
December 9, 2015
FBR Smartbrief

Top Story
The promise of gene editing for human health, animal research and conservation
Tasmanian devil.
The Tasmanian devil is one species that could benefit. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
Gene editing shows promise for treatment of many conditions; it could revolutionize animal research by allowing faster, cheaper and more precise development of animal models; and some scientists even see applications for saving threatened animal species. Scientists who gathered at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing discussed appropriate use of the technology, and the organizing committee determined "it would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing," although it said the perspective should be revisited as technology and social views evolve. STAT (12/7), STAT (12/3), National Geographic News (free registration) (12/3)
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Research Breakthroughs
Chemical reverses Alzheimer's symptoms in mice
The chemical EPPS, similar to the amino acid taurine, reduced amyloid plaques in the brains of mice with Alzheimer's-like pathology and resolved cognitive dysfunction, according to a study in Nature Communications. The findings implicate amyloid buildup as the pathological agent in Alzheimer's and may lay the groundwork for new treatments for humans with the disease. The Guardian (London) (12/8), BBC (12/8)
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Animal studies drive new thinking on heredity
DNA strands from a double helix model.
(Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Animal studies are challenging traditional thinking on how traits are passed from parents to offspring. Rat studies found obese fathers have offspring that tend to gain weight, and stressed fathers tend to have offspring that exhibit a blunted stress response. Epigenetic molecules adhere to DNA in ways that change how that DNA is expressed, so genes may be turned on or off. Studies in humans have also found epigenetic changes in sperm associated with lifestyle factors. Research reported in Cell Metabolism found changes in methylation of sperm DNA after the men underwent bariatric surgery. The New York Times (free-article access for SmartBrief readers) (12/3)
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Exercise is good for the mind, studies in animals and humans show
Researchers who found that exercise promotes brain plasticity in animals have reproduced the results in human studies. They found that exercise stimulates plasticity in the visual cortex -- an area thought to be not malleable -- even in adults. Researchers think the mechanism involves inhibition of the GABA neurotransmitter, which itself inhibits neuronal activity. The work suggests people with depression, brain injuries and cognitive decline might benefit from increased physical activity. Discovery (12/7), Forbes (12/8), R&D Magazine online (12/7)
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Infertile mosquitoes created to end malaria transmission
Researchers reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology that they have created malaria-carrying Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes that are infertile using gene drive technology. Scientists from Imperial College London revealed that the infertility gene was inherited by more than 90% of offspring across five generations. BBC (12/7)
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Could science enhance the brain's ability to learn?
Researchers believe they have isolated the mechanism through which learning occurs. Using animal brain cells, the scientists found that a neuron "tag" called an eligibility trace is activated in the presence of certain neurotransmitters, sparking a learned response. After exposing mouse cells to the neurotransmitters, they found stronger connections among neurons. The findings could allow scientists to harness the brain's reward system to improve learning, including teaching the brain in ways that treat central nervous system deficiencies. "If a reward is important for learning, what if we use that to enhance learning?" said neuroscientist Alfredo Kirkwood. The Baltimore Sun (12/6)
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Other News
What Do You Think?
Which animal has made the greatest historical contribution to scientific and medical research and discovery? 
VoteNon-human primate
Last week, FBR SmartBrief asked readers about the future of animal research:
What role will animal models play in biomedical research over the next 10 years?
They will continue to be essential for development of treatments and cures for diseases affecting people and animals.  85.52%
The role of animal models in scientific research and discovery will become less important as viable alternatives emerge.  13.10%
Animal models will not be necessary in scientific research and discovery over the next decade.  1.38%
Animal Health
Scientists hope drug will increase the canine life span
The work could give dogs more years of healthy life.
The work could give dogs more years of healthy life. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
University of Washington researchers are testing rapamycin, an anti-inflammatory agent that increases the life span of mice by over 25%, to see if the compound adds healthy years to dogs' lives. Researchers are working with 32 middle-aged Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds, and they will monitor the effect of treatment on overall health. It's work that could eventually be applied to longevity research in humans, but people could benefit even if the study doesn't lead to human treatments. "If we can understand how to improve the quality and length of life, it's good for our pets and good for us," said researcher Daniel Promislow. The Telegraph (London) (tiered subscription model) (12/3), (12/3)
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Canine research takes aim at diseases of dogs and humans
University of Massachusetts Assistant Professor Elinor Karlsson is initiating a study of dog genetics in an effort to unravel the underpinnings of diseases that affect humans. The canine and human genomes are highly similar; humans and dogs are affected by many of the same diseases; and because people and pets share an environment, they are exposed to the same threats. The Darwin's Dogs study will draw from genetic data and owner surveys, and researchers will also use the information to explore the roots of canine behavior. It's part of a growing body of research designed to yield insights that benefit pets and people. The Conversation (U.S.) (12/2), The Wall Street Journal (tiered subscription model) (12/2)
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The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is the nation’s oldest and largest non-profit dedicated to improving human and animal health by promoting public understanding and support for biomedical research. Our mission is to educate people about the essential role animal research plays in the quest for medical advancements, treatments and cures for both people and animals.
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