Spring 2009: Of Note
By Quinn Eastman
Researchers hope the first model of Huntington’s in monkeys will provide insights into the disease that causes loss of speech, movement, and swallowing.
Anthony Chan and his colleagues at Yerkes National Primate Research Center have created the first model of a human neurodegenerative disease in rhesus monkeys. Last spring, Nature published their research on rhesus monkeys engineered to develop an aggressive form of Huntington’s disease. Chan’s team is now at work developing a more subtle simulation of Huntington’s in monkeys.
But caution is in order, says Chan, because monkeys take longer to mature than laboratory mice—three years until puberty versus six weeks. “We have to think strategically, because there’s a huge commitment involved in caring for and monitoring the animals,” he says.
Researchers routinely insert human genes into mice to simulate human diseases, but this becomes more difficult with large animals. Chan’s alternative combines a viral vehicle for the DNA and a technique used by infertility specialists. First, the scientists usher the foreign DNA into a monkey egg cell by cloaking it with a lentivirus. Then they perform in vitro fertilization and transfer the early embryos into surrogate mothers.
Transgenic primate models for other human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or fragile X syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation, are likely to come next.—