By John Richard Schrock
A new growth factor prevented further heart damage and death after heart attack in pigs.
The study in Science Translational Medicine showed the factor caused new blood vessels to form and reduced cardiac death. With additional animal studies needed to confirm safety before testing in humans, the chemical might prevent scarring in other organs.
A study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases implicates mouse-like shrews caught by pet cats as possible transmitters of the Borna encephalitis virus in Europe. The Borna virus also causes encephalitis in sheep and ostriches, but the bicolored white-toothed shrew harbors the virus but doesn’t get sick.
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reports that wildlife, including macaques, foxes and wild boars are surviving well in the radiation-contaminated area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Further research would be necessary to evaluate the animals’ health.
When cuttlefish wear 3D glasses, they can strike accurately at shrimp projected on a screen, showing human-like depth perception, according to a study published in Science Advances.
While the bacteria in our intestines are very important to our health, studies of bats and birds show little if any positive benefits, according to a study in mBio.
Humans in space suffer from muscle atrophy from lack of exercise. But bears hibernate and their muscles don’t atrophy. According to findings published in Scientific Reports, their muscles maintain high levels of certain amino acids. The author states: “If we can better understand these strategies, we will be able to develop novel and non-intuitive methods to better prevent and treat muscle atrophy in patients.”
A two-drug vaccine removed nanofiber tangles and brain plaques (usually found in dementia patients) when tested in mice. This study in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy is expected to move to human trials with the vaccine in 20 months.
Unplanned pregnancies often result from failure to use oral contraceptives daily. In Science Immunology, a once-a-month oral contraceptive is described and is tested in pigs.
The question “What is a memory?” is being answered through research with rodents. In a review in the journal Science, Josselyn and Tonegawa summarize research for engram cells as the substrate for memory, based on rat studies.
To the extent that an animal is similar to a human in anatomy, physiology or response to a pathogen, it is also critical in human medical research. Researchers are very aware of which systems in animal models are similar and they select animal models where results can be extrapolated to human medicine. They avoid models where the animal physiology is different and not similar to the human condition. A pig is an excellent model for heart valves but is not a model for the spleen, liver or sweat glands.
Some animal research is not designed to improve human medicine but focuses on animals, helping us understand them and often contributing to their better health through veterinary medicine and environmental modification. And some animal research helps us understand the evolution of behaviors.
The Journal of Comparative Psychology published a study showing pairs of dogs and pairs of wolves were equally able to cooperate to get an award. Since dogs evolved from wolf ancestors, this cooperation likely predisposed them for domestication.
Film footage shows an African grey parrot helping another grey parrot get a reward, the first time such cooperation has been seen in birds, as reported in a study published in Current Biology.
The above are but a small portion of the animal research studies reported in science journals last week. Multiply this by several hundred relevant science journals and that is a lot of forward progress in knowledge that contributes to better human and animal health.
However, the current movement to shut down animal research in government agencies, and the possible subsequent de-funding of future animal research threatens to seriously curtail America’s research future. If that continues, the United States will have to look to Europe and Asia for the science of tomorrow.