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Pro-Test: standing up for science
Pro-Test: Standing Up For Science
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Keyword(s): breakthrough of the year


Permalink 12:15:53 pm, by Tom, 512 words, 1785 views   English (UK)
Categories: Information

From organ development to tissue engineering

Over the past year we have reported on how scientists are discovering how to engineer tissues and cells to treat disease, and how animal research plays a key role this new field of medicine.

It seems appropriate that Science, one of the world's top scientific journals, has this week published a special edition that surveys recent progress in our understanding of how our organs develop. This basic research underpins the use of stem cells in medicine and tissue engineering, and the reviews that make up the special report provide an excellent insight into how much we have learned in the past decade, and how much we have yet to learn. Amid the discussion of different theories about how particular cells and tissues develop and the strength of the evidence supporting those theories one thing becomes abundantly clear; the importance of research on animals as diverse as the fly, zebrafish, chick and mouse. For example while discussing one area of research, the process of branching morphogenesis where cells expand their surface area by forming extensions during organ development, Pengfei Lu and Zena Werb (1) observe that:

"Due to their structural simplicity and genetic accessibility, the Drosophila tracheal and air sac systems have given insight into understanding how epithelial branching occurs in the more complex organ systems of vertebrates. With recent technical advances, including modern mouse genetics, cell fate–mapping, mosaic analysis, and live imaging of organ cultures, our understanding of vertebrate branching mechanisms has dramatically improved."

An excellent example of ongoing research into organ development is provided by scientists at UCLA (2) who have shown in developing mouse embryos that the hematopoietic stem cells that produce the cells of the blood originate in the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels. This discovery will help scientists who are trying to find ways to produce hematipoietic stem cells from the cells of a patient's own blood vessels in the lab for use in transplants, for example after treatment for leukemia. If that is successful it may well benefit from another piece of work published this week (3), this time by scientists at Harvard University. The Harvard team used sophisticated imaging techniques, including the use of GFP labeled cells, to map the fate of hematopoietic stem cells and their derivatives that were injected into mice. This work, which demonstrates what happens to the cells under different conditions in unprecedented detail, should enable scientists to develop new techniques to optimize hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering are exciting areas of research, and will no doubt grab many headlines in coming years; its worth remembering all the animal researchers who work hard behind the scenes to make the breakthroughs happen.


Paul Browne

1) Lu. P and Werb Z. "Patterning mechanisms of branched organs" Science Vol. 322 (5907) pages 1506-1509 (2008)
DOI: 10.1126/science.1162783

2) Zovein A.C. et al. "Fate tracing reveals the endothelial origin of hematopoietic stem cells" Cell Stem Cell, Vol. 3 (6), pages 625-636 (2008) DOI:10.1016/j.stem.2008.09.018

3) Celso C.L. et al. "Live-animal tracking of individual haematopoietic stem/progenitor cells in their niche" Nature, Published online 3 December 2008, DOI:10.1038/nature07434


Permalink 06:42:49 pm, by Tom, 835 words, 2393 views   English (UK)
Categories: Information

From the Nobel Prize to the clinic through animal research

The winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2008 have been announced today, and this year the prize has been split between three scientists whose epidemiological work lead to the identification of viruses responsible for two deadly diseases. Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi were given the award for their discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while Harald zur Hausen was recognized for his discovery that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer. This years awards will get a lot of people talking, the decision not to award a share in the Nobel Prize to Robert Gallo cannot fail to be controversial, since he played an important role in the discovery of HIV and provided the bulk of the early evidence showing that it caused AIDS. Aside from that I think we can look forward to some interesting debates as every HIV/AIDS denialist and and anti-vaccine crank out there jumps on the Nobel Prize committee's decision. Amusing as such debates can be is it would be a shame if they distracted from the achievements of Montagnier, Barré-Sinoussi and zur Hausen, because make no mistake about it their discoveries were of great importance to modern medicine, leading to effective tests and treatments for HIV and more recently vaccines against HPV. We offer our heartfelt congratulations to each of them!

At this point you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with animal research? This is one of those years when the discoveries for which the Nobel Prize was awarded did not depend directly on animal research, but we do not have to look far to see where animal research played its part. Identifying the cause of a disease is just the start, you next have to work out how to prevent or cure it. Where HIV is concerned much has been written about the role of animal research in developing antiviral drugs and vaccines, and rather than going into that now I'll direct you to animalresearch.info which is an excellent introduction to the topic. The role of animal research in the development of HPV vaccines is less well known, so that's what I'd like to discuss here.

Once it had been established that HPV was the cause of most cases of cervical cancer work began on developing vaccines to protect against the virus. As with any vaccine there was a need to ensure that the vaccine was both safe and capable of stimulation the immune system to protect against the virus, and animal models of HPV infection were sought. While HPV is specific to humans other papillomaviruses infect species such as cattle, rabbits and dogs, and these provided a good model for the study of papillomavirus vaccines. Early work on the vaccines proved discouraging. Immunization with whole papillomavirus protected against infection but was simply too dangerous to try in humans since there was a risk that the virus used to immunize could itself cause cancer, it was after all the same virus. This study did however show that a vaccine was possible. The next approach tried was to immunize animals using fragments of virus protein, a common method in vaccine design, but this failed to provide any significant protection (1). It seemed that the whole virus was required to elicit a strong immune response. The breakthrough came from scientists who were studying the bovine papillomavirus capsid protein L1, a protein that forms the outer shell of the virus. They found that when the L1 protein was expressed in vitro it could self-assemble to form a virus-like particle (VLP), which when injected into rabbits stimulated the immune system to produce antibodies antibodies that bound strongly to bovine papillomavirus (2).
The discovery that the bovine papillomavirus VLP could stimulate antibody production was good news, but the presence of such antibodies does not necessarily confer protection against the virus, so they next examined if bovine papillomavirus VLPs could protect cattle against bovine papillomavirus, and if VLPs made from the papillomavirus specific to their species could protect dogs and rabbits against the canine and rabbit papillomavirus's. The animals were protected, and no adverse effects were noted (1), a success that lead directly to the development of VLP vaccines against HPV. So far two HPV vaccines have been approved for clinical use, Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix, and many states are now considering if they should make immunization against HPV part of their vaccination schedule. Hopefully, if their price tag does not prove too high, these vaccines will go on to prevent many cervical cancer deaths.

So as usual medical progress is made by scientists working in a variety of disciplines, each playing their part to make breakthroughs possible.


Paul Browne

1) Schiller J.T. and Lowy D.R. "Papillomavirus-like particles and HPV vaccine development." Seminars in Cancer Biology, Volume 7, pages 373-382 (1996) PubMed: 9284529.
2) Kirnbauer R. et al. "Papillomavirus L1 major capsid protein self-assembles into virus-like particles that are highly immunogenic." Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., Volume 89(24), pages12180-4 (1992) PubMed: 1334560.


Permalink 02:45:06 pm, by Tom, 518 words, 1985 views   English (UK)
Categories: Information

A monkey controls a robot, and gives new hope to paralysis victims

There are about ¼ million people in the UK with paralysis due to stroke, and another 50 thousand due to spinal cord injuries. There is therefore huge incentive to learn how to bypass the damaged parts of the brain by a brain-machine interface so that the patients can regain effective movements that would be a huge help in their daily lives. It is not surprising that there has been widespread press coverage of a study published online in Nature yesterday (1) that signalled a major breakthrough in this field.



Using 2 rhesus monkeys Andy Schwartz and his team at the University of Pittsburg have made a huge advance towards that aim. They trained the monkeys to use their own motor cortical activity to control a mechanized arm to feed themselves. The team extracted the control signal from recording from about 50 nerve cells in the animals’ motor cortex. This was far fewer neurons than many researchers thought would be necessary, an important discovery in itself that should make it a little easier to design electrode implants in future. Once the monkeys got used to the system they soon became astonishingly fluid, skilled and expert in moving the robot arm just by altering the firing of their motor cortical neurones. They even learnt to take advantage of the marsh mallows sticking to the robot fingers to speed its delivery to their mouths. Even though clinical use for people with disabilities is still years away because the arm requires large computers, bulky equipment and a full time technician, and the brain-implanted electrodes would not last a lifetime and lack touch feedback from the arm, Schwartz's achievement is phenomenal and a huge leap towards helping all those people with paralysis.

It is important to emphasise that this work could not have taken place without many years of animal experiments, with monkeys playing a key role (2,3). Andy has been working with monkeys trained to make movements designed to reveal how the motor cortex works for some 20 years. Only monkeys have the kind of control over their hands that we have, so only using monkeys could he work out the kind of control signals that they use to feed themselves. 20 years of monkey experiments (only using 1 or 2 a year) allowed him to ‘take the system to pieces’ and work out how the motor cortical cells control the arm. Obviously these experiments couldn’t be done on humans, they are simply too risky at this early stage in the development of the technology, but now he’s elucidated the control circuitry it will not be long before they'll be applied to benefiting paralysed humans.

Kind regards,

John Stein
Professor of Physiology, Magdalen College, Oxford

1) Velliste M. et al. "Cortical control of a prosthetic arm for
self-feeding" Nature. 2008 May 28. [Epub ahead of print]

2) Lebedev M.A. and Nicolelis M.A.L. "Brain–machine interfaces:
past, present and future" Trends in Neurosciences Volume 29, Issue
9, Pages 536-546 (2006)

3) Schwartz A.B. et al. "Brain-Controlled Interfaces: Movement Restoration with Neural Prosthetics" Neuron Volume 52, Issue 1, Pages 205-220 (2006)


Permalink 11:35:59 am, by Tom, 260 words, 1820 views   English (UK)
Categories: Information

The Mouse that Sniffled!

It's not so long ago that animal research was the science that dared not
speak its name, and reports on its use in the popular press few and far
between. Thankfully the situation has altered beyond all recognition in
recent years; scientists are increasingly willing to discuss their work
in public, and the importance of such research is recognized by
science-savvy journalists.

Today's front page in the Independent shows just how far we have come.

The work reported by Prof. Sebastian Johnston and colleagues in Nature
Medicine (1) is undoubtedly of great importance, as anyone who has seen
a loved one suffer from a rhinovirus induced asthma attack or bronchitis
will attest. Commenting on the breakthrough Sir Leszek Borysiewicz,
chief executive of the Medical Research Council which funded the study,
said "This important and fundamental discovery will enable us to
understand the effects rhinoviruses and common colds have on our health"
and went on to say that "It will open up new paths to finding treatments
which have been delayed for many years and provides us with the
opportunities for further breakthroughs in the future."

Pro-Test congratulates Prof. Johnston and his colleagues for their
success, but we are also delighted to see animal research getting the
credit it has long deserved for its role in medical advancement.

1) Bartlett N.W et al. "Mouse models of rhinovirus-induced disease and
exacerbation of allergic airway inflammation." Nature Medicine, 03
February 2008; doi:10.1038/nm1713


Paul Browne


Permalink 10:46:27 pm, by Tom, 272 words, 1908 views   English (UK)
Categories: News

In your school, in your university, In your news

In Your School
Pro-Test members have been visiting schools to give talks and participate in debates. A recent talk at a school in St. Albans passed a 14-0 vote in favour of animal research, only one week after the class had been visited by a speaker from Europeans for Medical Progress (EMP) (arguing against animal research).
A debate between Pro-Test spokesman, Tom Holder, and EMP director, Kathy Archibald, resulted in a 24-8 victory for animal research at Brentwood School debating society.
Other recent school talks were given to schools in Hertford and London, with more planned for the future.

If you would like to see Pro-Test come to speak or debate at your school then please click here.

In Your University
Pro-Test headed up to Aberdeen University in mid-December where they debated against Alistair Currie of PETA. An enjoyable debate focusing on morality and ethics brought up many interesting questions, although there was no final vote taken.

We encourage all University students to propose animal research motions to their Unions and debating societies.

In Your News
2007 has seen greater support for animal research among the British media. Thanks largely to organisations like Coalition for Medical Progress, RDS, Science Media Centre and Pro-Test, newspaper stories covering new treatments are increasingly likely to mention some of the animal research required in its developments. Keep an eye on our science blog for updates on the latest medical breakthroughs made possible through animal research.

Pro-Test Marches Again
On February 9th Pro-Test will take to the streets of Oxford for the third time in two years. Check back for updates on times, routes and speakers.



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