McGowan Institute faculty member Gerald P. Schatten, Ph.D. (pictured), Director of the Division of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, recently reflected on the findings of Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Center team who engineered five rhesus macaque monkeys to churn out the mutant protein that causes Huntington's Disease (HD). This development is expected to lead to greater understanding of the underlying biology of HD and to the development of potential therapies.
In addition, this pioneering study is leading the way toward the development of nonhuman primate models of other genetic diseases. Dr. Schatten agrees. “Transgenic monkeys with other human diseases, such as early onset Alzheimer's or fragile X syndrome, are sure to follow,” says Dr. Schatten.
Why engineer new monkeys? According to Emory’s lead researcher Anthony W.S. Chan, DVM, PhD, “In the past, researchers have used transgenic mouse models to study the disease [HD]. These models do not completely parallel the brain changes and behavioral features observed in humans with HD, thus making the development of a transgenic nonhuman primate model critical to currently treating and ultimately preventing the disease.”
In Pittsburgh, Dr. Schatten's research focuses on understanding human reproduction and development and making contributions to molecular medical therapies by determining stem cell potentials and accelerating gene therapy. Utilizing gametes, embryos, and stem cells, Dr. Schatten and his research colleagues are working to answer questions regarding Cloned Transgenic Disease Models for HD as well as:
-breast and ovarian cancers;
-inborn errors of metabolism;
-cognitive and mental disorders;
-polycystic kidney disease;
-blindness, deafness and sensory disorders;
-storage diseases; and
Yet even researchers accustomed to animal work say working with transgenic monkeys should always be a last resort. "There should be higher levels of scrutiny in working with our closest animal cousins," Dr. Schatten says.
Gerald P. Schatten, Ph.D., is also Director, Pittsburgh Development Center; Deputy Director, Magee-Womens Research Institute; and Professor and Vice Chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, and Cell Biology and Physiology, University of Pittsburgh.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Yerkes National Primate Center/Emory University News Release (05/19/08)
New Scientist (05/18/08)
The Tech Herald (05/18/08)
Pittsburgh Development Center