ATHENS, Ga. – Laboratory research on animals is a well-established method for discovering improved ways to find cures to human diseases. Scientists have turned to experimentation on primates, and the easily recognized “lab rat”, for many decades in applying viral, bacterial and genetic manipulations to determine potential results to scientific theorems. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University are prime examples of highly reputable research laboratories that have followed this research method with proven success.
However, new segments of the animal kingdom have revealed exciting potential for enhancing scientists’ abilities to experiment with possible medical breakthroughs. The increased attention to non-mamilliam research will be one of the focuses at the “Aquatic Models of Human Disease” international conference hosted by the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forest Resources from Oct. 30–Nov. 2. One goal of the conference is “encourage(ing) enhancement of the utility of aquatic models for studies of human disease.”
“Invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and other non-mammalian species are becoming increasingly valuable to biomedical researchers as new genetic and genomic technologies emerge for these animals,” reports Scott J. Brown in his article Hopping and Swimming in the Genomic Age: Genetic Technologies Energize NonMamiliian Research Models, found in the winter 2005 edition of the National Institutes of Health’s journal NRCC Reporter. “Because they share a surprising number of physiological processes with humans, non-mammalian species provide critical clues to the biological mechanisms that underlie human health and disease.”
An example of the potential for this new path of inquiry is Richard Winn’s research on the influence green tea has fighting genetic damage resulting from exposure to known cancer-causing chemicals. His research, recently published in the journal, Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, supports an increasing body of evidence that shows green tea provides a variety of beneficial health effects, including chemopreventative properties.
The novelty of Winn’s work is that he used a unique genetically modified, or transgenic, fish developed at the Aquatic Biotechnology and Environmental Laboratory in the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forest Resources in place of commonly used mice as the test subjects. These “white mice with fins”, as Winn calls them, were exposed to a potent cancer- causing agent, benzo[a]pyrene, found in cigarette smoke and common in polluted waters. Fish that received green tea components after the chemical exposure showed highly significant, 84 percent, reduction in the DNA damage or mutations compared to those that did not. Winn showed these results were comparable to those found in mice supporting the continued and expanded use of fish in biomedical research.
Winn’s research is gaining international recognition for the innovative approaches he is employing to use fish as animal models for human disease and as improved indicators of health hazards in the environment. The University of Georgia has two U.S. patents and one European patent that have been issued based on these transgenic fish and related technology, and Winn’s primary research is being supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
While non-mamillian species can be used to duplicate models conducted on traditional laboratory animals, Winn argues there are additional advantages to utilizing non-traditional approaches.
“A transgenic fish for mutation analysis can be used in some of the same ways as rodents,” he says, “but the fish might also make some contributions where rodents simply cannot be used practically.”
For example, researchers can observe fish exposure to varying levels of toxicity by having them swim in water contaminated with particular chemicals.
More information about the “Aquatic Models of Human Disease” can be found at http://aquaticmodelsconf.forestry.uga.edu.