Research Ethics Roundup: NIH moves to retire chimps, the “mouse hospital” approach, and more

by Maeve Luthin, JD, project coordinator

Take a few moments to catch up the latest news in research ethics! Whether you work in animal care and use or human subjects protections, this week’s edition has something for you!

Super Sugar Keeps Naked Mole Rats Cancer-Free: Researchers have discovered that naked mole rats do not contract cancer due to hyaluronan, a complex sugar, which exists in spaces between cells and prevents them from clumping together to form tumors. Scientists plan to continue their research by planting the hyaluronan into mice to see whether they too can remain cancer-free.

Tiny Patients, Major Goals: Some researchers are studying certain types of cancer using a “mouse hospital” approach, in which mice are genetically altered to develop cancer in their organs as opposed to under the skin. In this model, investigators observe these mice using tools such as ultrasounds and CT scans, which allow researchers to explore treatments that pinpoint the genetic roots of the disease.

Tight Budgets Put the Squeeze on Promising Medical Research: With National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant approvals at their lowest level ever, many promising scientists are leaving academic research. Those who are staying in the field are spending a majority of their time writing grants and securing funding instead of conducting research. While US federal grant money has declined, other countries are increasing their research budgets, leading commentators to warn of a “lost generation” of US-based scientists.

NIH to Significantly Reduce Use of Chimps in Research: NIH announced that it will be retiring 310 chimpanzees currently available for research purposes to the Federal Sanctuary System. The agency will keep but not breed up to 50 chimps for future biomedical research studies that meet the criteria and principles laid out by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). NIH plans to wind down all research projects using NIH-owned or supported chimps that do not meet IOM principles and criteria.

The Mystery of the Second Skeleton: The Atlantic traces the challenges of investigating rare diseases by profiling researchers and those with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a disorder in which patients grow new bones that stretch across their skeletons. Patients and their families banded together to raise money for the first lab dedicated to studying the disease and also volunteered blood and tissue samples to help propel research forward. In part due to this grassroots activism, NIH’s Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program is now running preclinical tests on the first drug developed for the condition.