December 5th 2022



EARA News Digest 2022 - Week 49

Welcome to your Monday morning update, from EARA, on the latest news in biomedical science, policy and openness on animal research. 

Cancer research for humans and dogs – video

The US news programme 60 Minutes has aired an episode on the key role research using dogs plays in the search for drugs and treatments for cancer, in both humans and animals.

CBS reporters spoke to scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who are using dogs,  that already have cancer, in clinical trials.

As in humans, cancer is also very common in dogs, with estimates that one in four will develop the disease, amounting to 4 million dogs in the US alone each year.

In the programme (from 1m.46s), Elaine Ostrander, at NIH, explained that because some dog breeds are more predisposed to certain cancers, it is much simpler to study these groups of dogs than humans, where there are more complex factors.

Clinical trials in dogs can also pave the way for human trials. A study in pet dogs that successfully treated the bone cancer osteosarcoma, using modified bacteria, led to the US Food and Drug Administration approving a phase II clinical trial for children and teenagers last year. 



How the foetus can ‘self-repair’ wounds 

Damage to the protective sac that surrounds a foetus in the womb can be repaired in part by the foetus itself, a new study in humans and mice has shown.

Researchers at Kyoto University, Japan, investigated the innermost ‘amnion’ layer of the amniotic sac, which, if torn or ruptured, can often lead to premature birth.

Amniotic membranes normally remain intact until the onset of, or just before, active labour starts.

Figures from the US show that premature rupture of membranes affects an estimated 30%-40% of preterm births, a total 150,000 women per year.

However, the researchers found that the sac can sometimes also repair itself to avoid these problems.

By looking at both human and mouse amnions from different pregnancies, the study found that immune cells called macrophages in the foetus can be recruited to repair tears in the amniotic sac.

“We conclude that amnion has high regenerative potential… and that foetal macrophages are important in mediating this wound-repairing process,” said Yosuke Kawamura, of Kyoto, in the journal Science Signaling.



EU report on non-animal research for autoimmune diseases

The EU Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published its latest report on Advanced Non-animal Models in Biomedical Research, focused on autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The document is the final instalment in a series of seven JRC reports on animal research alternatives, aimed at providing scientific evidence to support European policymaking.

Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system cannot distinguish between the body’s own cells and foreign cells, leading it to attack healthy cells, tissues and organs.

The report reviewed 183 research papers published in journals (2014 - 2019), which used human-based alternative methods to animal research, to uncover disease mechanisms and potential drug targets – those two research areas made up 80% of the total.

The JRC reported that just 7.5% of the studies demonstrated a ‘high output' in terms of performance and biological information and 83% were a ‘low output’. 

However, the report said that their implementation was directly addressing the scientific hypothesis of the authors, providing direct biological relevance to the model.

The analysis also revealed that the types of autoimmune diseases most frequently investigated did not correlate with the most prevalent diseases occurring in the population.



Healing brain damage in zebrafish

Researchers have shown how proteins can stop scars forming in the brain, helping our understanding of how to regenerate tissue for people with brain injury. 

In a study on zebrafish, led by the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU), in Munich, Germany, scientists activated existing immune cells in the brain called microglia, to study their effects - microglia are key to forming scar tissue.

Although scars are important for separating the healthy and injured parts of the brain, in the long term they can prevent new neurons from integrating into the brain circuitry.

The group found that two proteins, granulin and TDP-43, helped to reduce the activity of the microglia and therefore prevent scarring and aid in tissue regeneration. They also saw that this was also the case in brain tissue taken from people who had died of brain injury.  

Professor Jovica Ninkovic, at LMU, said of the study published in Nature Neuroscience: “The idea was to tease out the differences between zebrafish and mammals so as to understand which signalling pathways in the human brain inhibit regeneration – and how we might be able to intervene.” 

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