Glow-in-Dark Cats to Help Fight AIDS

Sep 12, 2011 1:49pm
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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.

ABC News’ Mikaela Conley reports:

A glow-in-the-dark cat is the latest research to be unveiled in the fight against AIDS.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic paired a gene from a fluorescent jellyfish to track another gene that is known to resist the development of the feline AIDS virus. The cat version of the disease depletes the body’s infection-fighting T-cells, just as it does in people.

“This provides a capability to see if AIDS protection genes can work at the whole animal level in an animal that is naturally susceptible to AIDS,” said Dr. Eric Poeschla, a Mayo molecular biologist and lead researcher of the study. “The glow helps to tell you where in the cat the protein is active without having to do an invasive test.”

Researchers inserted the gene pairing into female cats’ eggs before they had been fertilized by sperm. After the cats gave birth, the kittens glowed green under a blue light.

Scientists have used the technique in previous research to examine the protein’s ‘ ability to resist the disease in macaque monkeys, but researchers said this study is the first to genetically modify reproductive cells in a carnivorous animal.

The gene, called the  rhesus macaque restriction factor, is known to block infection of FIV. The goal, Mayo scientists said, is to create cats with built-in immunity to the feline AIDS virus.

Scientists would like to eventually insert protective genes that could fight HIV in humans.

HIV/AIDS has killed more than 30 million people worldwide, according to the study, and about 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS today.

“Everyone knows there’s a big AIDS pandemic out there, but there’s a really been a parallel pandemic in domestic cats, in which millions of cats die of AIDS every day,” said Poeschla. “The disease commonly afflicts feral cats since it is transmitted through biting.

“This research can benefit feline health as much as human health,” said Poeschla. “The understanding of how these genes work could eventually help the treatment in cats as much as people.”

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