Mouse Models Help Researchers Prepare for the Future of Space Travel

As if it was a scene taken straight out of a movie, the United States aims to put a man on Mars in the next two decades.  Mars, at its closest point, is 33.9 million miles away, and animal research is showing that the long trip to the Red Planet could have health implications for astronauts and space travelers.

Using mouse models, researchers have found that exposure to cosmic rays, which are abundant in space, could lead to something dubbed “space brain.”  Mice exposed to energetic, charged particles, similar to cosmic rays, developed conditions leading to mental impairment and dementia. They also showed decreased levels of “fear extinction,” the way in which the brain stifles traumatic associations. These decreased levels could make one more prone to anxiety which could become problematic on the three year trip to Mars.

Without the use of animal models, it would become almost impossible to test the effects of space travel on astronauts’ bodies. Author of the study and professor of radiation oncology at the University of California, Charles Limoli, explains, “Exposure to these particles can lead to a range of potential central nervous system complications that can occur during and persist long after actual space travel – such as various performance decrements, memory deficits, anxiety, depression, and impaired decision-making.”  An astronaut’s job in space is so complicated that any decrease in performance can spell disaster for a whole mission.

Thankfully, with the use of animal models, it becomes easier to study the rigors of space travel.  While the results from these studies are only an approximation to the effects of space on humans, it is a vital first step towards further exploration of outer space and ensuring the safety of our intrepid astronauts.

To read about this study, please click here.

Are Mice the Key to Unlocking a Vaccine Against Breast Cancer?

Scientists may have found a new way to protect high-risk individuals from developing breast cancer, a disease that will impact about 1 in 8 women in her lifetime.  According to recent news coverage, researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and from the Medical University of Vienna have successfully tested a vaccine with artificial HER2 antigens.  HER2 proteins cause breast cancer tumors to grow and it is present at above normal levels in about 30% of breast tumors. Thanks to research with mice this new vaccine could be on its way to patients to prevent breast cancer.

The immune system does not attack mutated cancer cells.  However, artificial tumor antigens, otherwise known as mimotopes, can stimulate an immune response. Unfortunately, these mimotopes need to have a carrier to be effective and with past carriers the mimotopes have changed their structure, decreasing their effectiveness in the body.

Researchers have found the vaccine is much more effective if the HER2 mimotopes are paired with particles of a virus.  The viral particles are too small to cause disease but are enough to cause an aggressive immune response.  This immune response is associated with the mimotopes and the body then begins to attack breast cancer cells.  In mouse models, those vaccinated with the antigen were shielded at significant levels from growing tumors; while the control group developed the cancer.

This potential vaccine could protect people and those who have had breast cancer in the past.  And, in a surprising twist, it can also be used in man’s best friend.  The HER2 protein performs similar functions in human and canine breast cancer.  The research team found that the protein corresponds about 90% between dogs and people.

To read more about this new discovery, please click here.

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.

FBR President Outlines the Case for Animals in Medical Research in the Chicago Tribune

Frankie Trull, President of the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR), has recently written an engaging op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about the many benefits of using animals for medical research.

In her piece, Trull emphasizes the importance of utilizing non-human primates (NHP) which, while only comprising of less than one percent of the total research performed with animals, accounts for a sizeable impact on medical discovery.  To back up this fact, the article references great strides in medical research, such as the vaccines for polio, mumps, measles, and hepatitis B, which owe their successes to NHP research.  Yet with all of this evidence of the benefits of animal research, some critics posit that computer models are better suited for experiments than animals.  Trull refutes this claim quickly with her example of a recent endeavor to model human brain activity with a computer.  She writes, “In 2014, researchers in Japan attempted to simulate brain activity by using a supercomputer with over 700,000 processor cores.  It took the computers 40 minutes of whirring to effectively replicate what the brain does in one second.” Neurological research would take much longer and may inhibit the development of lifesaving treatments with the use of a computer model alone.  In addition, without animal models, particularly primates, researchers would have to test potentially unsafe medicines on humans, which is highly unethical and illegal.

Though in spite of the perceived controversy surrounding it, non-human primates remain a vital part of biomedical research. To read the op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, please click here, and please share it with your family, friends, colleagues, and on social media.

Research Community Releases Three Resources Lauding the Critical Need for Monkeys

Over the past few weeks the biomedical research community has shared with the public, policymakers, and media three well-written resources emphasizing the vital importance of nonhuman primates (NHP) in life-improving and life-saving research. These three tools highlight the irreplaceable nature of monkeys in the endeavor to better understand, treat and cure a wide array of diseases and conditions including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Zika virus, HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s disease.

Along with The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research, the authoritative white paper written by nine of the nation’s top scientific organizations, two recently released resources thave been published. To supplement the white paper and to further highlight the irreplaceable contributions of primates to medical progress with the lay public, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) unveiled a colorful, quick and easy-to-read infographic designed to be shared on social media. FBR also produced a concise, full-color brochure illustrating how far medicine has come with the help of monkeys in research. Designed to be visually appealing, it takes both a look into the past and highlights innovative cures and treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, Zika virus, fetal development, Alzheimer's disease, organ transplants, and much more. To read the brochure, The Lifesaving Benefits of Primate Research, please click here.

Please print, share, and distribute the white paper, infographic, and brochure via email and social media to help highlight the importance of primates in research.

Over 400 Researchers Sign Letter Supporting Important Research with Primates

In response to animal rights groups’ efforts to downplay the important role of studies involving nonhuman primates (NHP), over 400 researchers and 20 institutions in Europe have signed a letter voicing the necessity of NHP in scientific discovery.

Understanding Animal Research (UAR) coordinated the effort and is still accepting signatures for the next 48 hours. The brief letter spells out the key role of primates in finding cures and treatments for several global health challenges. Importantly, the letter declares the attention to ethics and welfare in all studies requiring NHP models.

To read the letter, please click here. Please feel free to share the letter with your friends, family, colleagues, and on social media to spread the word about the critical role of primates in biomedical research.

Animal Research: Helping Preserve and Protect America’s Wildlife

Following in the footsteps of two very informative postings about the critical role of animal research in preserving endangered species and improving the lives of our pets, the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) has released another, this time focusing on the important task of preserving America’s wildlife population.

Disease or pollution can easily disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem which can then upset our wildlife population. Prairie dogs, for example, are susceptible to sylvatic plaque, a highly infectious disease spread by bacteria in flea bites. This is the same bacteria bubonic and pneumonic plague in humans and has the capability of killing 90% of a prairie dog colony. Thankfully research with mice has developed an effective vaccine that has been administered in the wild in blocks of food. Deer and people are also vulnerable to Lyme disease. The pathogen causing the disease can be found in white-footed mice, small rodents, and birds. Yet, deer ticks prefer their eponymous host when possible, so areas with large deer populations are at a higher risk for the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a novel way to genetically engineer mice to become immune to the disease and hopefully this could bring an end to the disease.

Animal research is essential in safeguarding America’s wildlife for generations to come. Please click here to read FBR’s latest release and if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out their coverage of animal research helping endangered species and pets.

Scientific Groups Release White Paper on the Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research

The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) announced today the release of the white paper, The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research. The white paper is a collaboration between FBR and eight premier scientific groups: the American Academy of Neurology, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the American Physiological Society, the American Society for Microbiology, the American Transplant Foundation, the Endocrine Society, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the Society for Neuroscience.

The white paper highlights the essential role NHPs historically have and continue to play in finding treatments for serious and life-altering conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Zika virus, HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s disease.

To learn more about how research with NHPs is contributing to lifesaving cures for people, please download the white paper, The Critical Role of Nonhuman Primates in Medical Research or visit

The Undeniable Truth: Lab Animals Are Helping Our Pets

You may have already seen a recent blog post by the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) that showcases just one of the many important missions of biomedical research: saving endangered species. From in vitro fertilization to helping stop the spread of disease in the wild, animal research is working to make sure that endangered and threatened species of animals live on for generations to come. But what is animal research and testing doing to help our pets at home? FBR took a closer look at that question in a story posted on their website yesterday.

Vaccines, cancer treatments, and anxiety medications, for example, were developed through animal research and improve the health not only of people, but companion  dogs and cats. Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs and their tumors are very similar to those found in people. Clinical trials with dogs and cats have yielded valuable data to test the effectiveness of drugs and treatment regimens. In fact, more and more pet owners are enrolling their companions in clinical trials.

But there’s more. Drugs like Prozac developed for people, through studies with rats, mice, and dogs, are effective in alleviating anxiety in dogs. Studied in rodents, pigs, and primates, Rapamycin, the commonly prescribed anti-rejection medication for humans, is now given to dogs for improved heart health. Cats with hyperthyroid disease are treated with radioiodine – a common treatment for human thyroid disease.

Vaccinations are essential in ensuring the future health of both people and animals. Back in 1885, Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine with rabbits. In 1982, researchers studying dogs were able to create the vaccine against canine parvovirus (often referred to as parvo), saving the lives of countless puppies. Vaccine development for animal-specific diseases often offer invaluable information in the hunt to rid the world of human disease, as well. Given the fact that feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is very similar in structure to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), studies in FIV provide insights which could inform the development of an HIV vaccine.

It’s very clear that without animal research scientists and veterinarians would not be armed with the knowledge necessary to improve the health of both wild and companion animals. Please take a moment to read FBR’s latest installment on animal research helping animals and share it with your family, friends, colleagues, and on social media. Feel free to share your thoughts in the blog section on FBR’s site.

Learn How Animal Research is Helping Elephants and Other Endangered Species

By now, we’re all very familiar with how translational research has helped improve the lives of both humans and animals. But did you know similar research is helping to save endangered species from extinction? It is and the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) recently covered the advancements in science that are being put forward to protect endangered animals.

A number of factors are targeting species of wild animals for extinction. Deforestation, pollution, poaching, disease, and urbanization are all taking their toll, so science is using valuable data obtained from animal studies to reverse that course. Assistive reproduction technology like in vitro fertilization and cloning opens the possibility to breeding of these animals in captivity and allowing for their release into the wild. In fact a similar project is currently underway at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. with endangered cats and canids.

Researchers, like those at the Baylor College of Medicine, are studying a deadly strain of the herpes virus called EEHV which can kill young elephants in a matter of days. With the help of mice and rabbits in examining EEHV, those researchers were able to unlock the virus’ genome to help decode a possible vaccine for Asian elephants. Similar vaccine studies have also been conducted to help primates, namely chimpanzees. The deadly Ebola virus is responsible for countless human deaths, but it has also ravaged the wild chimpanzee population. In a 1994 outbreak roughly one quarter of the chimpanzee population died from the disease. Thankfully, University of Cambridge researchers were able to create a vaccine with captive chimpanzees in 2014 that has saved countless chimps from Ebola in the wild.

Animal research has and will undoubtedly continue to play a vital role in the development of lifesaving treatments for both people and animals. Thankfully it is greatly benefiting species that may otherwise disappear due to disease or interference with the delicate balance of the world’s ecosystem. To read FBR's review of these important species preserving studies, please click here.

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