Cool Animal Research: 5 Weird Medical Breakthroughs
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Animals and even tiny insects have traditionally been a source for learning more about preventing and treating human illnesses, with this role continuing to be of crucial importance today. From using maggots to heal open wounds to milking mice for protein-rich lactose to understanding how gut worms may prevent asthma and dogs may predict diabetic attacks, the value of safe animal research is confirmed in recent medical breakthroughs.
A Punch or Boost to the Gut?
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During vaccinations every couple of years, dogs are typically tested for parasitic gut worms, which can cause severe disease in not only beloved animals but the human population. However, according to a recent study, gut worms may actually benefit humans by preventing asthma and other allergies. Even though parasitic worms have been eradicated from most human populations due to better hygiene and food practices, they exist in 2 out of 3 school children in Vietnam, where the study was conducted. Using tablet treatments to rid the body of gut worms, the researchers found that the treated school children developed an increased risk of becoming allergic to house dust mites and cockroaches. Especially interesting with this study is the fact that such allergies are extremely rare in Vietnam, possibly suggesting that the presence of gut worms may have certain positive effects on the human immune system.
Disgusting but Healing Maggot Juice
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If there is a more disgusting sight than a pile of maggots, I haven’t seen it. With that aside, researchers believe they have discovered what makes maggots effective healers of wounds like ulcers and burns. According to a new study, maggots secrete a fluid that helps them consume decaying tissue, which is usually a breeding ground for bacteria that prevents proper healing. Using maggots on wounds (a practice that dates hundreds of years and is commonly known as maggot therapy) provides the underlying tissue a better chance to heal. Now, researchers have developed an enzyme from maggot fluid that could soon be available for patients who need to treat open wounds, specifically via an over-the-counter gel. As long as this treatment is effective and kept away from the toothpaste aisle, I’ll learn to live with this creepiness.
Milk from Mice? Skinner!
Apparently a classic Simpsons episode, during which it is discovered that the cost-conscious Springfield Elementary School is serving milk from mice to its student population of slack-jawed yokels, is not that far off. Russian researchers have recently produced human breast milk (lactoferrin) from mice, specifically by splicing human genes into their genome. Lactoferin is rich in proteins and protect babies from viruses and bacteria as their immune systems are still developing. However, it is unlikely that mice will eventually serve as dairy sources of protein-rich milk, given all the work that went into milking the mice. To extract milk from mice, the researchers had to anaesthetize the creatures and develop specially-adapted pumps for their tiny teats, confirming how larger animals like rabbits, goats and cows are needed for more large scale production of milk.
Dogs Are Truly Man’s Best Friends
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We’ve long known that dogs can hear almost anything, and we’re now learning more about the amazing sense of smell of our canine pals. Researchers have been spending more time exploring how dogs can sense when their owners are having diabetic attacks following various reports of dogs getting nervous as the insulin levels of their owners dropped. Apparently, dogs can detect the onset of a diabetic attack based on the body odor given off by their owners. Now some dogs are getting trained as hypo-alert dogs that warn their owners when they need to boost their sugar levels and even fetch them their diabetes kits. Amazingly, dogs have also shown the ability to detect bladder cancer based on the odor of human urine.
Say Hello to Shark Skin Jello
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While known for their menacing fins, sharks may provide some benefits to humans due to their skin, which is known for its tensile strength, high opacity and excellent water and UV barrier properties. More specifically, researchers in Tokyo have been studying shark skin with the goal of developing a high-tech gelatin to coat pills and even add to fatty foods. Of course, a shark skin gelatin would better protect the contents of pills, although it may not have the greatest taste. With this point in mind, researchers are hoping to create a gelatin of natural ingredients that would mimic the advantageous qualities of shark skin without making some types of medicine even tougher pills to swallow.