January 23rd 2023


EARA News Digest 2023 - Week 5

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

Insights on ‘cognitive maps’ in rats

Identifying a type of ‘mental map’ that guides behaviour may have implications for our understanding of psychiatric disorders, suggests a recent rat study.

Researchers at EARA member the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Concordia University, Canada, studied rats who performed a task based on logic.

The team then disrupted the activity of the lOFC – the lateral orbitofrontal cortex – a region of the brain known to be important in creating so-called cognitive maps, to see how it would affect the creation of the maps in some of the rats.

Cognitive maps are visual brain representations of our external surroundings that allow both humans and rats to work out directions and recognise locations.

By comparing the rats with those that had not had their brain activity affected, the researchers found that the lOFC plays an important role in writing cognitive maps to help guide the rats’ behaviour during the task.

An abnormal lOFC is sometimes seen in certain psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Dr Kauê Machado Costa at NIDA told Medical Xpress: "Our results open the possibility for a reinterpretation of the role of the lOFC in these pathologies, and of the dysfunctional behaviour in patients diagnosed with them.”



Human throat cells can slow cancer in mice

A mutation in the throat cells of middle-aged people appears to reduce cancer of the oesophagus in mice, according to new research.

A study led by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK, also involving EARA member Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, first discovered that mutations in the NOTCH1 gene were commonly found in the oesophagus (also known as the food pipe) of people aged over 50.

The team then did studies, in mice with tumours, and found that triggering these mutations in the animals could specifically slow the growth of tumours in the oesophagus.

Dr Phil Jones, at Sanger, said: “Studying these mutations can lead to a further understanding of how cancers develop and possibly hold the key to preventing the disease from happening, or developing new ways to treat it.”



EU is ‘running out of research monkeys’ - article

The recent implementation of EU legislation may drive biomedical studies using monkeys out of Europe and threaten the future of brain and vaccine research, a media report has revealed.

The article, (and pdf) in China Table, explained that since November EU regulations now only allows researchers to use so-called F2 generation monkeys – defined as non-human primates bred from a first generation animal bred in captivity (F1) - and effectively thereafter to maintain self-sustaining colonies.

However, this rule has coincided with a dramatic shortage of research monkeys in Europe, due to demand during the Covid pandemic and a decision by China, where the major supply of animals comes from, to cease exporting these animals, in part due to a decision to increase their use in the country’s own biomedical research sector.

The article states that monkeys are ‘irreplaceable for some biomedical research’ and explains that anyone who received a Covid-19 vaccine approved in the EU has received a vaccine tested on research monkeys.

Both Prof. Dr. Stefan Treue, director of the German Primate Center (DPZ), and Kirk Leech, EARA executive director, who are quoted in the article, explained that now with supply difficulties and rising costs the EU could become less attractive in the future – and migrate to China.

Asked how the problem could be solved Stefan Treue said: "Here, it would be important for EU countries to find a sensible balance between banning the continued use of certain animals and the risks of this rule for animal welfare and science in Europe.”

Kirk Leech also felt the only long-term solution for Europe is to localise breeding, but the EU Commission should also work to achieve better supply chains: "If Europe wants to take the issue of resilience seriously, it's not just about masks or medical suits.”



More evidence of
different drug reactions between the sexes

The sex of a mouse can determine how their organs can be affected by certain hormones and drugs, according to studies at the University of California.

A team at the University of California, Davis, USA, used fluorescent light imaging (pictured) to study how the hearts of mice respond to the stress hormone noradrenaline, which affects contractions of the heart and is involved in the body’s ‘fight or flight’ survival instinct.

The researchers saw that there was a difference in electrical heart activity, known as ‘repolarisation’, between the sexes, with the hearts of females returning to normal more quickly than males after being given noradrenaline.

Repolarisation refers to how the heart resets between each heartbeat and is closely linked to some types of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.

Meanwhile, in a study at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers observed that only female mice with tauopathies – such as Alzheimer's – survived for longer than male mice when they were given a clinically-approved drug that targets this group of brain diseases.



Register in SPCAL

Registration is fast and allows you access to exclusive and reserved contents for registered users on page of the Portuguese Society of Sciences Laboratory in Animals.

Make registration