Archive for the ‘COST’ Category

SALAAM kick-off meeting in Munich: thinking big (the important role of large animal models)

Monday, January 19th, 2015
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SALAAM kick-off meeting in Munich: 15-17 December 2014

SALAAM kick-off meeting in Munich: 15-17 December 2014

About a month ago, shortly before the season break, and very timely to enjoy its Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt), the kick-off meeting of the Project SALAAM (Sharing Advances on Large Animal Models) took place in Munich (Germany), 15-17 December 2014, beautifully organized by Eckhard Wolf and Pascale Chavatte-Palmer, Chair and Co-Chair of this EU-COST Action BM1308. This conference, open to any interested researcher in the field, represented the official launch of the SALAAM project, to discuss about the role of large animal models in Translational Medicine, “Bridging the Gap between Basic and Clinical Research”, as indicated in the SALAAM logo. During these three days, about 120 scientists, including researchers not initially associated with SALAAM (including several ISTT members), gathered at the Gene Center, LMU Munich, to share their views about the role of large animal models in biomedicine.

The meeting started with a welcome address by Eckhard Wolf (LMU, Munich, Chair of SALAAM) who set the stage and underlined the need to use appropriate animal models for succeeding in translational research. In the past, large amount of resources have been devoted to rodents, mostly mice, in biomedicine, where mouse models have become instrumental for the current understanding of how most of our genes work and greatly facilitated the progress in the post-genomic era. However, in spite of mice being widely used in Biomedicine to model human diseases, often mice fail to accurately reproduce the features associated with a given human pathology. Therefore there is an urgent need to develop non-rodent animal models that would mimic aspects of human anatomy and human physiology more closely. Pigs, small ruminants and rabbits appear to be excellent candidates to follow up the preliminary discoveries made in mice, and they are the main purpose of the SALAAM initiative, through all the appointed participants, experts in these large animal models. The conference continued for its first day with lectures by A. Aartsma-Rus (NL), and S. Wildhirt (DE), who described examples of use of large animal models for Duchenne muscular dystrophy and for the development of medical devices, respectively. The initial Ethical perspective on the use of large animals was provided by N. Stingelin (CH). This first day concluded with an interesting key-note lecture by M.M. Mohiuddin (USA) on the recent advances in pig-to-primate cardiac xenotransplantation.

On the second day, the conference presented the very large repertoire of methods and techniques that are currently available for Genetic Tailoring of large animal models. Angelika Schnieke (DE) introduced the state of art for the current genetic engineering of large animals, nicely summarizing many years of techniques and developments that have been successfully applied for the production of large genetically modified animal models. This initial talk was followed by a presentation by Lluis Montoliu (ES) on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 approaches to functionally analyze the role of non-coding genomic sequences, illustrated with some examples tested in mice, depicting the important role of rodents in proof-of-concept type of experiments, before undertaking subsequent experiments in larger animal models. B. Grzeskowiak (PL) presented an innovative set of nanomagnetic gene delivery vectors for transgenesis. Two additional talks illustrated the power of genetic engineering of the pig genome, using transposons (W.A. Kues, DE) or very elaborated gene cassettes for regulating and tracing disease genes (J.E. Jakobsen, DK). The session ended with a presentation from goats, where L. Boulanger (FR) reported the role of FOXL2 as a female sex-determining gene.

The SALAAM conference continued with a session devoted to systematic phenotyping initiatives of large animal models. At first, H. Fuchs (DE), presented the experience and phenotyping pipeline of the German Mouse Clinic, operating within the Infrafrontier consortium, and a good example of successful systematic phenotyping in mice. Next, Pascale Chavatte-Palmer (FR) discussed the achievements and challenges of imaging techniques in large animal models, through her studies on reproduction and fetal development. J. Tibau (ES) presented his interesting studies using pigs to analyze human obesity and to validate the effect of diets on the evolution of fat deposition using tomography approaches. A. Blutke (DE) introduced the impressive Munich MIDY-PIG Biobank initiative, as a unique resource for translational diabetes research. The two last talks presented the use of pigs as models for respiratory infections (K. Skovgaard, DK) or cystic fibrosis (I. Caballero, FR).

The last standard session of this SALAAM conference was devoted to discuss how to select the best animal model. This session began with an interesting presentation by J. Langermans (NL), who shared their initiative of non-human primate biobanking for translational medicine, a collaborative consortium where most of the nonhuman primate research centres in Europe were represented. He also discussed the unique features of non-human primates to investigate devastating diseases affecting us, such as the new infections (i.e. Ebola) or neurodegenerative diseases (i.e. Alzheimer, Parkinson) , often very challenging to be reproduced in non-primate animal models. Next, Antonio Gonzalez-Bulnes (ES) discussed the advantages and challenges of using pigs and sheep animal models, whereas L. Hiripi (HU) presented the unique features of the rabbit models.  V. Huygelen (BE) discussed the use of piglets to investigate the human low birth weight cases , and A. Navarrete Santos (DE) further presented rabbits as ideal models for investigating diabetes during pregnancy. Diabetes research was also the focus of the last speaker of the session, G. Pennarossa (IT), whose experimental dessigns are focused on the use of dogs to explore cell therapy-based treatments.

The SALAAM first public conference ended with an excellent and very motivating talk by Karin Blumer (CH) on the ethical aspects of using large animals. She challenged the audience with the question whether “size did matter?” when it comes to Ethics and Animal Models. Her presentation nicely illustrated the different Ethical perspectives existing in the field and, most importantly, the relevant parameters that should be taken into account in order to properly address this question. She presented the “size” of an animal as an accidental attribute, not an intrinsic value, that must not determine its moral status. This presentation triggered an interesting and live discussion among the participants.

On the third and last day, the different working groups of SALAAM gathered first independently to discuss the next initiatives and eventually shared their conclusions in a combined general session. The planned initiatives will include the organization of practical workshops on CRISPR-Cas9 and transposon technologies, the generation of specific pig Cre-transgenic lines for the production of conditional pig mutant animal models,  the need to standardize phenotyping protocols associated with additional specific training courses, the preparation of biobanks and associated databases for archiving and sharing tissues from large animal models, and the creation of a group to analyze the implementation of the 2010/63/EU Directive across Europe, the public perception and ethical issues of animal research, and the need for training to adequately communicate results to the public.

Information about future plans, initiatives and activities of the SALAAM EU-COST action will be available from its dedicated web site.

SALAAM: Sharing Advances on Large Animal Models

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
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SALAAM: Sharing Advances on Large Animal Models

SALAAM: Sharing Advances on Large Animal Models

The EU-COST action SALAAM (Sharing Advances on Large Animal Models) was launched yesterday in Brussels, at a kick-off meeting attended by most of its members. This 4-year EU-COST action is currently formed by 17 countries and more than 44 participants, including many experts in the fields of animal genetics, physiology, transgenesis, bioethics, welfare and animal science, with a focus on large (i.e. non-rodent) animal models. This EU-COST action is chaired by Prof Eckhard Wolf (Germany) and vice-chaired by Dr. Pascale Chavatte-Palmer (France) and it includes various ISTT members such as Bruce Whitelaw (UK), Zsuzsanna Bosze (Hungary), András Dinnyes (Hungary), Cesare Galli (Italy) and Lluis Montoliu (Spain). In addition, another participant in this EU-COST action, Angelika Schnieke (Germany) is one of the invited speakers at the forthcoming 12th Transgenic Technology (TT2014) meeting to be held in Edinburgh (Scotland, UK).

EU-COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is one of the oldest European initiatives in Science, an intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology, allowing the coordination of nationally-funded research on a European level. SALAAM EU-COST action, as its acronym indicates, aims to sharing advances in genetic engineering and phenotyping of non-rodent mammals to develop predictive animal models for translational medicine. While recognizing the value of small and most popular animal models (mouse, rat, zebrafish, Drosophila, C. elegans, …) and its powerful genetics for increasing our knowledge on complex biological systems and for proof-of-concept-type experiments, this EU-COST action SALAAM focuses on large (i.e. non-rodent) mammalian models, since these may bridge the gap between proof-of-concept studies and more effective clinical trials, leading to better translational animal models for the study of human diseases. The research projects undertaken using rodent and non-rodent animal models should not be perceived as competition or opposed initiatives, rather as complementary studies, where each animal species is selected according to its particular value and expected benefits for the ultimate goal, that is, our understanding on the function of the mammalian (i.e. human) genome and the eventual development of effective treatments for many human diseases. During the course of this EU-COST action several conferences and training workshops will be organized, open to anyone interested in the field, to discuss about (1) new technologies (including the application of genome editing nucleases, i.e. CRISPR-Cas, for the generation of improved genetically altered animal models); (2) defining best animal models for specific phenotyping studies; (3) creation of databases for sharing information on animal models creates, tissues available and protocols; and (4) animal welfare, bioethics and communication to the public. All these conferences and training courses will be adequately advertised through the ISTT web site.

At the International Society for Transgenic Technologies (ISTT) we care about the generation and the analysis of “all” genetically altered animals, not only focused in the classical rodent models, but also including the work done with other species, with large animal models, in livestock. In this regard, the ISTT has been traditionally supporting conferences on non-rodent transgenic animals, organized in Tahoe by ISTT Member Jim Murray (UC Davis, USA) and has promoted a web page within the ISTT web site where most of the advances on livestock and other non-rodent genetically modified animal resources are shared. At the next 12th Transgenic Technology (TT2014) meeting, which will be held in Edinburgh on 6-8 October 2014, the Conference Organizers (Douglas Strathdee-Chair, Peter Hohenstein and Bruce Whitelaw) have scheduled a session on animal biotechnology, where the recent work accomplished using large animal models will be discussed. In addition, immediately following the TT2014 meeting, a hands-on workshop on zebrafish transgenesis methods will be offered to interested participants.

RGB-Net: A European funded COST Action focused on Rabbit Genome Biology, including Transgenic Rabbits

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
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RGB-Net: A European funded COST Action focused on Rabbit Genome Biology, including Transgenic Rabbits

RGB-Net: A European funded COST Action focused on Rabbit Genome Biology, including Transgenic Rabbits

A COST Action entitled “A Collaborative European Network on Rabbit Genome Biology – RGB-Net” has been recently funded by the European Union.

Why a COST Action on Rabbit Genome Biology? The rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a key species in biology. Basic discoveries have been made investigating this mammal whose genome has been recently sequenced. The rabbit is a livestock, an animal model, a wild resource, a pest and a fancy animal and comprises a large number of breeding stocks/lines. This COST action brings together experts in all rabbit research areas and in other complementary research fields (breeders, geneticists, bioinformaticians, physiologists, evolutionists, embryologists, immunologists, industry experts, etc.) in order to facilitate the transition of rabbit genomic information from experimental data into usable benefits and applications by means of networking expertise.

Four Working Groups are focused on:

  • 1) the refinement of the European rabbit genome resource and the development of genome-based platforms
  • 2) genetic aspects in meat, fur and pet rabbits and biodiversity resources
  • 3) the rabbit as a model in basic biology and human diseases and as a tool for biotechnology applications and
  • 4) genetic and comparative genomic aspects for the study, exploitation and management of wild lagomorphs.

The expected outcome is a coordination of rabbit research activities and a transfer of knowledge which will produce a strong European added value across a broad spectrum of biology research fields, including applications and new developments on transgenic rabbits, as defined by Working Group 3 that enlists many experts in this field. RGB-Net is organizing workshops, meetings, training schools and can provide funds for short term scientific mobility.

RGB-Net is open to all interested scientists from European and non-European countries. Contacts: Prof. Luca Fontanesi, Chair of RGB-Net; Prof. Zsuzsanna Bosze, RGB-Net WG3 Leader and ISTT Member.
Additional details can be obtained from RGB-Net website.


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