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RESEARCH ETHICS By Kristie Stoick, M.P.H., and John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.
Test-Tube Nerve Cells Offer Hope
British researchers have discovered an innovative way to skip animal tests as they search for new treatments for a disfiguring genetic disease. Patients with neurofibromatosis develop multiple tumors on nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
Professor Oliver Hanemann and his team at the South West Peninsula Medical School use cultures of normal and tumor-derived human neural cells grown in plastic dishes in the laboratory to both investigate the biology of the tumors and quickly screen potential therapies that might kill the tumor cells. Since the team uses therapies already approved by the United Kingdom’s drug-screening process, successful candidates from the cellular model tests can go directly to trials in human patients. The studies have already revealed key aspects of the cells that affect their growth and allowed the cancer drug sorafenib to move into clinical trials. “Using human in vitro cell culture, which is the unique aspect of our work, allows us to move seamlessly and relatively quickly from lab-based biochemistry to drug therapies, clinical trials, and hopefully successful outcomes,” said professor Hanemann.
Flaiz C, et al. Altered adhesive structures and their relation to RhoGTPase activation in merlin-deficient schwannoma. Brain Pathol. April 25, 2008.
Immune System of the Future Promises to Revolutionize Vaccine Research
VaxDesign is changing the way researchers study the immune system with the MIMIC (Modular IMmune In vitro Constructs) system, which is described as “immune testing in a test tube.”
Many researchers looking for new vaccines use animals, including mice, rats, dogs, and nonhuman primates. More animals are used to test the potency of each batch of vaccine. These tests are not only cruel but they also often do not accurately predict human immune response, as has been illustrated by the many failures of potential HIV vaccines in clinical trials and the TGN412 clinical disaster in the United Kingdom.
MIMIC allows researchers to test potential human immune system responses to new or existing vaccines. The system uses human cells, but it is better than a single-cell culture model because it contains different modules that cover the entire vaccination process: the tissue at the vaccination site (usually mucosal tissue), lymphoid system tissue, and functional tests that mirror the immune system response. The system is contained within a plate of test tubes that can be used with an automated system, which saves time and money as well as animals’ lives.
VaxDesign is currently undergoing a validation program designed to offer data that will allow the MIMIC system to be used for safety testing. VaxDesign was awarded an Innovation Fund award from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative this year.
NUTRITION By Dulcie Ward, R.D., and Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.
More Evidence Linking Cow’s Milk to Type 1 Diabetes
Cow’s milk proteins have been linked to type 1 diabetes in research over the past 20 years. More evidence comes from Anatek-EP, a protein research laboratory in Portland, Maine. Researchers reported finding antibodies to bovine beta-lactoglobulin in the serum of children with diabetes. Individuals without diabetes did not have the antibody. Type 1 diabetes is caused when antibodies destroy the insulin-producing pancreatic cells. Studies suggest that cow’s milk proteins, viruses, and other factors may trigger the production of these dangerous antibodies. Larger studies are currently testing this theory.
Goldfarb M. Relation of time of introduction of cow milk protein to an infant and risk of type 1 diabetes mellitus. J Proteome Research. 2008;7:2165-2167.
An Egg a Day Increases Risk of Death
People who ate one or more eggs per day had an almost 25 percent increased risk of death in a 20-year period compared with those who generally avoided eggs, according to Harvard’s Physicians’ Health Study I. For participants with diabetes, the risk of death was twofold. The study included 21,327 participants with an average 20 year follow-up.
One large egg contains approximately 215 milligrams of cholesterol, more than any other common food. Eggs also contain saturated fat and animal protein.
Djoussé L, Gaziano JM. Egg consumption in relation to cardiovascular disease and mortality: the Physicians’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87:964-969.
Fruits and Vegetables Provide Academic Edge
Children who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables perform better academically than their peers. As part of the Children’s Lifestyle and School-Performance Study, researchers in Canada looked at 4,589 fifth-grade students to examine the link between diet quality and academic performance. Food frequency questionnaires were compared with the results of a standardized test given to all fifth-grade students in Canada. The results showed that children who ate more fruits and vegetables and less fat—indicating a high-quality diet—also experienced increases in academic performance.
Florence MD, Asbridge M, Veugelers PJ. Diet quality and academic performance. J Sch Health. 2008;78:209-215.
Animal Protein Increases Infertility Risk
Women who consume animal protein may be harming their fertility. Harvard researchers analyzed dietary assessments from 18,555 women trying to become pregnant in the Nurses’ Health Study II and found that adding one serving of meat per day was associated with a 32 percent greater risk of infertility. After adjusting for confounding factors, women who consumed the most total protein were at 41 percent greater risk of ovulatory infertility than those who consumed the least. Women with the highest animal protein intake had a 39 percent increased risk, while those with the highest vegetable protein intake had a 22 percent decreased risk for ovulatory infertility.
Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008;198:210.e1-210.e7.