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.

Michael Lauer to Serve as NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research

Michael S. Lauer, MD, is to be the new NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, replacing Sally Rockey, PhD. He is expected to assume this new position in the coming weeks.

From 2009 to the present, Lauer served as Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), where he began his career at NIH in 2007. He was most recently named the NIH Co-Chair for the President's Precision Medicine Initiative. Dr. Lauer has been actively involved and a strong advocate of human subjects protection. He is also very familiar with animal research issues given the reliance on animal models of many NHLBI-supported programs. As NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, the Office of Laboratory Animal Research (OLAW) will report to him.

For more background, please see the complete appointment announcement here.

Dogs on the Hunt for Cancer Cure in Humans

Earlier this week, Chemical & Engineering News featured a wonderful look into the important role that animal research, specifically that with canine models, play in improving human and veterinary help.  The article, “Could Fido Fetch a Cure?” takes a close look at dogs with cancer and the valuable insight they are providing to help cure the disease.

After receiving the diagnosis that Moses, a six-year-old black Labrador retriever, had lymphoma, he was enrolled by his family in a clinical trial at the University of Missouri where he would be treated with new class of chemotherapy drugs.  These new agents, called indenoisoquinolines, were developed through a collaboration between the United States’ top veterinary schools and the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Comparative Oncology Trials Consortium (COTC).  The article notes, “running clinical trials on dogs with cancer is a win-win. Trials may save the lives of beloved family pets, while the data collected can be used to inform drug development for human patients.”  Thanks to their efforts, Moses is doing well.

Cancer is not exclusively a human problem and our four-legged friends are helping researchers improve therapy.  To learn more about this effort, please read “Could Fido Catch a Cure?” by clicking here.

New Ebola Vaccine Showing Promise in Monkeys

Late last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are working on a vaccine that has shown to protect macaques from infection from the Ebola virus within seven days.

Known as VSV-EBOV or rVSV-ZEBOV, the vaccine is the same one that was also reported by the LA Times to be effective in human trials in Guinea.  Andrea Marzi, coauthor of the study published in Science, told the newspaper that the next objective of the study was to observe whether the vaccine could work as a treatment for Ebola after exposure to the virus.

To learn more about the study, please read the report in Science and the LA Times’ coverage of the discovery.

Animal Activist Pressure Results in House Appropriations Report Language

A months-long, multi-pronged campaign by a variety of animal rights groups against some National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported research projects involving nonhuman primates has resulted in a reference made in the report accompanying the House Committee on Appropriations bill for FY 2016. Included with many other comments and issues raised in the 263-page report, is this paragraph:

Review of Maternal Deprivation Studies.—The Committee is aware that prominent experts and animal advocacy organizations have raised concerns about the scientific and ethical justifications for maternal deprivation studies involving baby monkeys being conducted in both intramural and extramural NIH funded laboratories. The Committee is further aware that the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare opened an investigation in response to these allegations on September 9, 2014. The investigations consulted with research investigators, the USDA, nonhuman primate center scientists, veterinarians, animal care staff and other relevant experts. As a result of the investigation, several modifications were made to the protocol and several procedures removed. Accordingly, the Committee requests NIH to conduct a review of its ethical policies and processes with respect to nonhuman primate research subjects, in consultation with outside experts, to ensure it has appropriate justification for animal research protocols and to provide an update on these efforts in the fiscal year 2017 budget request.

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