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Customizing Genetically Engineered Models for Specific Research Applications

Customizing Genetically Engineered Models for Specific Research Applications

An interview with Dr. Philip Dubé, discussing the importance of genetically modified models for understanding neurodegenerative diseases, conducted at SfN by Alina Shrourou, BSc.

What challenges do researchers face when developing drugs for the brain?

The first challenge is access to animal models. There are a lot of licensing issues when it comes to using animal models. Furthermore, the development of a very good mouse model does not mean that that is available for drug development.

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Secondly, choosing the right type of model can be a challenge. A mouse model will recapitulate some aspects of a disease, but not all. The question then becomes how to choose the right one for your specific target of interest. There are limitations to some animal models, and every year new ones are being created. It can be a big challenge then to choose the appropriate model, stay up to date, and always be able to have access to the most cutting-edge model.

At Taconic Biosciences, we want to ensure that we have consistent quality of the animals that we produce, but we’re also looking to identify the next generation of models that will enable people to study specific therapeutic indications in greater detail and with greater fidelity of the human disease.

How do researchers identify which model is most suited to their research applications?

Let’s look at microbiome work as an example. The key thing that you need is a germ-free mouse, because a germ-free mouse is completely devoid of every single microorganism. That is the basic and essential tool for being able to study how microorganisms affect your physiology and your behavior, and it really impacts everything from infectious disease to neuro-biology.

We’re just beginning to understand the link between the microbiome and neuroscience, behavior, learning and development. Taconic is one of the largest and most long-standing providers of germ-free mice and we offer mice with custom microbiomes to meet our customers’ specific research requirements.

Please give an overview of the animal models that Taconic can provide.

Alongside our microbiome and neuroscience portfolio, we also focus a lot of our efforts on immune-oncology research.

Immuno-oncology is using the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Traditionally, when you’ve done these types of studies in animals, you’re taking a human tumor and putting it into an animal that doesn’t have an immune system. This is clearly a problem if you’re trying to study the immune system. Therefore with this in mind, we’ve generated a variety of different types of humanized mice, ranging from genetically humanized, to putting a human immune system in a mouse.

Additionally, we have a very strong inflammatory bowel disease portfolio. In some cases, there’s a lot of overlap between immuno-oncology and other inflammatory diseases. We have a number of models used vitally to support inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and colitis. We recently launched a brand new germ-free version of an IL-10 knockout mouse, which has applications for both microbiome and inflammatory bowel disease study.

What therapeutic areas can Taconic Biosciences’ Neuroscience Portfolio support?

We focus on neuro-degeneration in our Neuroscience portfolio, with our two main areas being Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Within both of those portfolios, we have a lot of the standard models that have been there for 15-20 years, but we also have brand new genetically engineered models.

We work with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which allows us to use their resources to design and create what is going to be the next model to study Parkinson’s disease. We also have done some work in ALS, as well as some neurocognitive type disorders.  

How does Taconic develop these disease specific models?

Taconic has a custom model generation group called GEMs Design, based in Cologne, Germany. They’ve been the leaders in doing a lot of genetic engineering for the past 20 years. We create many new models specifically for customers, but occasionally we also will create a new model and decide to commercialize it. Sometimes we’ll make it for a specific company and then talk to them and suggest making it available to everyone.

What does Taconic Biosciences hope to provide to the scientific community by being at Neuroscience 2018?

We’re here, for one, to learn what people need. We’re a company that is highly customizable. When researchers say that they need a specific model, we’re going to use that to help guide the types of products that we offer. We’re here to learn from researchers and to help educate people on different types of Alzheimer’s models and neurodegenerative disease models that we can provide.

About Dr. Philip Dubé

Dr. Philip Dubé is Senior Manager, Global Application Science at Taconic Biosciences. He has 16+ years’ experience in rodent model use, completed research fellowships at Vanderbilt University and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and served as an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee member. Dr. Dubé holds a Ph.D. in physiology and an Honor’s B.Sc. in pharmacology from the University of Toronto.

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