September 12, 2011
Glowing Green Cats Could Be Key In Battle Against AIDS
Could glowing, fluorescent green cats be the next great weapon in the fight against AIDS and the HIV virus? Researchers at the Mayo Clinic seem to think so.
Researchers at the clinic reported on Sunday that they have developed "a genome-based immunization strategy to fight feline AIDS and illuminate ways to combat human HIV/AIDS and other diseases. The goal is to create cats with intrinsic immunity to the feline AIDS virus."
The feline equivalent of HIV, known as feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV, works the same way as its human counterpart, they say. It leads to AIDS by depleting the body's T-cells, which help fight infection. In both humans and cats, certain proteins known as restriction factors, typically defend them against invading viruses but are unable to fight off FIV/HIV.
The Mayo Clinic study, writes Julie Steenhuysen of Reuters, "involved inserting monkey genes that block the virus into feline eggs, or oocytes, before they are fertilized."
"The scientists also inserted jellyfish genes that make the modified cells glow an eerie green color--making the altered genes easy to spot," she added. "Tests on cells taken from the cats show they are resistant to feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV, which causes AIDS in cats."
The team behind this research included a group of physicians, virologists, veterinarians, and gene therapy experts, the clinic said in its press release. The technique used in the genetic transfer is known as gamete-targeted lentiviral transgenesis, and the scientists used a gene for a rhesus macaque restriction factor, which had previously been identified as capable of blocking FIV infection.
"This provides the unprecedented capability to study the effects of giving AIDS-protection genes into an AIDS-vulnerable animal," Dr. Eric Poeschla, a molecular biologist and the lead researcher on the study, told Steenhuysen in a phone interview Sunday.
Poeschla added that his team had only worked on the cellular level, but planned to eventually expose feline subjects to the disease direction, reasoning, "If you could show that you confer protection to these animals, it would give us a lot of information about protecting humans,"
That might sound cruel to some animal lovers out there, but as Poeschla pointed out in a statement, "One of the best things about this biomedical research is that it is aimed at benefiting both human and feline health“¦ It can help cats as much as people."
The research has been published online in the journal Nature Methods.
Image 2: Mayo Clinic researchers have developed a genome-based immunization strategy to fight feline AIDS and illuminate ways to combat human HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Credit: Mayo Clinic
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