Ambitious Research of Retina Regeneration Being Developed with Zebrafish

Diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and retinal degeneration used to spell the end of sight for those afflicted.  The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Eye Institute (NEI) has granted $1.9 million to Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center to fund retina regeneration research to help patients with those conditions. As expected, animal research is going to play an important role in those studies.

Part of the Audacious Goals Initiative developed by NEI to push the envelope to tackle some of the most difficult eye diseases through regenerative medicine, the idea is to use stem cells to replace damaged retinal tissue and restore sight. Ed Levine, Ph.D., one of the head researchers, is very optimistic about the potential of this research.  “This is very early work,” he explains, “but we already have hints that it is possible because many fish species have the capacity to regenerate cells.”  Levine has teamed up with James Patton, Ph.D., who has researched the retinal regeneration capacities of zebrafish.  The goal is to understand how zebrafish can regenerate their cells and attempt to recreate that regeneration in mouse models.  The hope is that from mice, the therapies could eventually be applied to humans.

This research is just another example of how animal models can be used to better the lives of individuals with terminal, debilitating diseases. To read more about this exciting study, please click here.

Senate Spending Bill Proposes $2 Billion More for NIH

The Senate Labor-HHS-Education appropriations subcommittee yesterday marked up its version of the FY 2017 Labor-HHS-Ed appropriations bill. “This is the first bipartisan Senate Labor-HHS bill in seven years, and I want to thank Senator Murray for her work on this bill,“ said Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), subcommittee chair. “The fiscal year 2017 Labor-HHS bill eliminates 18 duplicitous or unnecessary federal programs in addition to the 18 from last year’s bill, and is $270 million less than last year,“ he added.  The bill provides $161.9 billion in base discretionary spending, which is $270 million below the FY 2016 level and $2 billion below the President’s budget request.  The Full Senate Appropriations Committee may take up the bill as soon as tomorrow.

According to the Republican summary, the measure provides $34 billion for NIH, a $2 billion (6.3%) increase.  In December of last year, the NIH received a $2 billion boost in the omnibus funding bill that raised its budget from $30 billion to $32 billion. The new proposal includes:

•    $300 million for the Precision Medicine Initiative, an increase of $100 million;
•    $1.39 billion for Alzheimer’s disease research, an increase of $400 million;
•    $250 million, an increase of $100 million, for the BRAIN Initiative to map the human brain;
•    $333.4 million, an increase of $12.5 million, for the Institutional Development Award;
•    $463 million, an increase of $50 million, to Combat Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria; and
•    $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member of the subcommittee, said, “I am especially proud that this bill doesn't include a single new damaging policy rider.”  The Democrats also released a summary.

NIH Workshop on Research with Non-human Primates (NHP)

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Associate Director for Science Policy Carrie D. Wolinetz, PhD, announced last week a workshop on September 7, 2016, that will convene experts in science, policy, ethics, and animal welfare to discuss the oversight framework governing the use of non-human primates (NHPs) in NIH-funded biomedical and behavioral research.  As yet, no workshop speakers have been announced.

In her “Under the Poliscope” blog post, Dr. Wolinetz stated, “NIH remains confident that the oversight framework for the use of non-human primates in research is robust and has provided sufficient protections to date. However, we believe that periodically reviewing agency policies and processes ensures that this framework evolves in a manner consistent with emerging scientific opportunities and public health needs. Toward this end and in response to Congressional interest, the Office of Science Policy is taking the lead in planning a workshop on September 7th . . .  At this workshop, participants will also explore the state of the science involving non-human primates as research models and discuss the ethical principles underlying existing animal welfare regulations and policies…  NIH is committed to ensuring that research with non-human primates can continue responsibly…”

The workshop will be broadcast live and archived for future viewing on the NIH Videocast website.  Comments regarding the workshop may be submitted online in advance of and during the workshop for consideration.

Science Coalition Answers ‘Wasteful’ Research Allegations

The Coalition to Promote Research (CPR) and the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) sponsored a Congressional exhibit and reception April 13, “’Wasteful’ Research? Looking Beyond the Abstract”.  Its purpose was to  provide researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), whose work had been targeted in various Congressional “wastebook” publications, an opportunity to put their research into context for Members of Congress and their staff. The unique Congressional exhibition and reception featured nine researchers from across the disciplinary spectrum.

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), author of a Congressional wastebook, attended the event. “This has been enlightening, and we want to make sure we are accurate,” the Senator told the Huffington Post. “It is a learning process.”

The event was co-hosted by the Consortium of Social Science Organizations (COSSA), the American Psychological Association (APA) and Elsevier. Additional organizational sponsors included the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), American Educational Research Association, Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLGU), the Coalition for Life Sciences (CLS), Population Association of America, and the Society for Research in Child Development.  Additional organizational supporters can be found on last page of reception program.

NCI Announces Blue Ribbon Panel for Cancer Moonshot

The National Cancer Institute (NCI)  announced on April 4 the Blue Ribbon Panel that will lead the Vice President’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative. The panel consists of scientific experts, cancer researchers, and patient advocates.  It serves as a working group of the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), which will consider the Panel’s recommendations and advise the NCI director.

A final report by the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, will be produced and then forwarded to President Barack Obama by December 31, 2016.  Members of the research community and the public can engage in the initiative initially by subscribing to updates on the main website or by emailing the panel at cancerresearch@nih.gov.  In addition, an online forum for submitting scientific ideas and comments to the panel will be available on the site in the coming weeks.

NABR summarized last month the cancer research areas that depend on animal research.  Please take a look at our factsheet,  The Role of Animal Research in the Cancer Moonshot, for more information.

Animal Models Helping to Combat Zika Virus

The Zika virus has reached pandemic levels in Latin America and experts believe that it will spread to all of North America, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to recently declare the virus a “global public health emergency.”  Spread mainly through mosquito bites, Zika typically causes an illness similar to a mild form of dengue fever but the most urgent concern is a possible connection to microcephaly in infants and Guillain–Barré syndrome in some patients.  At the moment, no treatment or vaccine for the virus is available but rest assured researchers are working diligently to combat the pandemic with animal models on the front lines.  Yesterday, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) released an interesting overview on the animal research involved in Zika research.

Animal research will be a critical component in discoveries leading to preventing the spread of Zika.  Dr. Franics Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agrees: “It is now critically important to confirm, through careful epidemiological and animal studies, whether or not a causal link exists between Zika virus infections in pregnant women and microcephaly in their newborn babies.” Researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) highlighted their intent to expedite Zika research and noted in a release, “Studies to develop animal models to study ZIKV pathogenesis (especially neurological manifestations and teratogenic potential) and evaluate candidate therapeutics and vaccines.”

As with every challenge to global health, animal research will be an indispensable resource at every stage of the Zika outbreak.  To learn more and to read FBR’s overview, please click here.

BREAKING NEWS: White House Announces Specifics of Cancer Moonshot Task Force

As you’ll recall, President Barack Obama announced during his January 12 State of the Union address the creation of an initiative to make stronger strides towards curing cancer.  Today, the White House released specific details on how this “moonshot,” as the President put it, would take shape.

The White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, a collection of over thirteen science and research oriented entities, will be established within the Office of the Vice President and be funded and managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The Task Force will work in conjunction with many departments and agencies to accelerate the understanding of cancer, improve patient access, encourage the development of innovative treatments, and to identify and address any unnecessary regulatory burdens that hinder research.

To learn more about the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, please see news coverage in The Hill or click here to read today’s release from the White House.

Pro-Animal Research Op-Ed Featured Today in The Hill

Just this morning, the Capitol Hill newspaper and news site The Hill featured an op-ed discussing the critical importance of humane animal research in neuroscience and other fields of research.  The piece was penned by Hollis Cline, President of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) and Hahn Professor of Neuroscience at The Scripps Research Institute, and Mar Sanchez.  Sanchez is associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University, affiliate scientist in the Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience at Yerkes National Research Primate Center, and chair of the SfN’s Committee on Animals in Research (CAR).

Cline and Sanchez set the record straight by discussing the influential role that animal research has played in studying how the brain works so that revolutionary advancements could be brought to fruition.  Breakthroughs in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, the development of brain-controlled prosthetic devices for lost limbs and life-improving medications for those suffering from schizophrenia all owe their success to research with animals.  The authors even go further by noting that animal models have been the basis for nearly every medical discovery in the past century and cite NABR’s Top 25 Most Prescribed Drugs.

Animal research is an undeniably important component to medical discovery as Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), noted at the 2015 SfN Annual Meeting when he said, “We have to continually make the case for how valuable it has been to study animals in order to learn almost everything we know about how biology works.” He continued on to affirm the importance of non-human primates and other animals.

Today’s feature in The Hill follows a letter sent to Collins from Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and 27 other Democrats calling for the retirement of primates from a Poolesville, MD NIH research facility.

To read today’s piece in The Hill, please click here.

FBR Statement on End to Chimpanzee Research

The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) learned with concern of the recent NIH decision to retire all NIH-owned chimpanzees, ending its support for research on the species. Given the cost and difficulty of moving over 300 chimpanzees, who are currently well-situated in established colonies and receiving the highest quality of care, FBR believes it would make more sense to let the animals remain in place, which will have the additional benefit of maintaining a study model should the need arise. The decision to retire even the reserve colony seems to run contrary to the Institute of Medicine’s report, which stated “chimpanzees may prove uniquely important to unraveling the mystery of diseases that are unknown today”.

To read how chimpanzees have helped medical research, please click here.

BREAKING NEWS: Closure of NIH Chimp Program Could Have Public Health Implications, FBR Warns

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is winding down its chimpanzee research program, with its remaining animals being moved to sanctuaries. The organization retired many of its chimps two years ago but has kept a small population for certain research of high public health importance, and observers warn eliminating that resource could have serious implications. "Given NIH’s primary mission to protect public health, it seems surprising," says Frankie Trull, President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR).

 

To read Nature's report on this breaking news, please click here.

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