May 11th 2021 


11 de Maio de 2021


EARA News Digest 2021 - Week 19

Welcome to your Monday morning update, from EARA, on the latest developments in biomedical science, policy and openness in animal research in Europe and around the world.
See EARA's Coronavirus updates

Neurodegenerative disease non-animal models - EU study

The EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published a knowledge base of more than 550 non-animal models used for research into neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Co-ordinated by the JRC's EU Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM), the document (plus dataset) features a collection of models taken from 567 journal articles out of 13,000 screened abstracts.

The publication is the third in a series of seven by the JRC on the use of non-animal models worldwide in biomedical research. The previous publications were on breast cancer and respiratory disease.
Although the majority of the models involve in vitro, cell-based technology, a growing number of examples make use of computer simulation, or growing patient cells outside the body, such as studying brain tissue to visualise protein clumping, which is a typical characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.



Humanised pigs for biomedical research

A team of researchers at Iowa State University, USA (pictured) are hoping to improve the study of human diseases using pigs bred to contain human immune cells.
The pigs are born without their own immune system due to a genetic mutation that causes Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), meaning that human stem cells can be transplanted into the liver, leading to the breeding of a ‘humanised’ animal with cells from the human immune system.
“Pigs make better medical research subjects than [SCID] mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup,” said Dr Adeline Boettcher in The Conversation.
“This research will lead to human lifesaving discoveries utilizing the SCID pig model,” added Dr Dan Thompson, chair of animal science at Iowa University.
The pigs may also be used to study some cancerous tumours, or develop surgical techniques such as skin grafts.



Depression and swimming mice 

A new article, highlights the importance of using animal models in the search for more effective antidepressant drugs. 

Currently, antidepressants only work for two thirds of patients, and can cause unpleasant side-effects.  

In the article, published by Understanding Animal Research (see video), scientists explain how animals play a key part in screening for potential new treatments. 

“At the moment, there is no alternative to using animals in that research,” said Dr Sarah Bailey, Senior Lecturer of Pharmacy and Pharmacology of University of Bath.  

“Obviously, an animal isn’t going to tell you it feels depressed or unhappy, but you do get changes in behaviour which are similar to humans suffering from depression,” said Professor Allan Young, of King’s College London

These changes can be a loss of interest in food and sex, for example, which can be measured to an extent. However, there is one test that has shown the same results over and over again for all known antidepressants in humans. 

Using the forced swim test - where mice or rats swim in a small tank of water - researchers can assess their behaviour under the influence of potential antidepressant treatments. 

“It is the best model to test new potential antidepressant compounds,” addedn Dr Bailey. 

In EARA's recent #TransparencyThursday Q&A on Instagram, Christina Dalla of the Medical School of Athens and National Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, also supported the use of the forced swim test (see video, on EARA YouTube min 2:02). 

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