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Newly Created Rats Designed to Speed Alzheimer's Research
Date:4/10/2013

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- Everyone wants to build a better mousetrap, but researchers working to uncover the secrets of Alzheimer's disease have taken that a step further: They've built a better rat.

By creating genetically engineered lab animals that more closely mirror key elements of Alzheimer's in the human brain, scientists report they have created a more effective, faster approach for early testing of potential drugs to treat the disease.

These "transgenic" rats are better lab animals than are other rodents for a variety of reasons, according to study author Terrence Town, a professor in the physiology and biophysics department at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. "You get so much more usable data from these rats."

"First, the typical rat, which is 5 million years closer to the human than the mouse is, is a better model for pathology than the mouse," Town said. Mice have typically been seen as the preferred lab animal because rats are four times more expensive to house, he noted.

Because the genetically altered rats are designed to develop specific pathologies seen in Alzheimer's, these rodents could help researchers better understand the disease process and test new therapeutics, he explained. "With mice models, you can cure them with lots of things but none have translated to humans, and we believe we're now going to close the gap with these rats."

Alzheimer's disease, which affects at least 5.1 million Americans, is an age-related dementia that gradually destroys a person's memory, thinking and the ability to carry out simple tasks.

Scientists have found that brain evidence of the disease includes the loss of neurons, or nerve cells; the development of abnormal levels of proteins that form what are called amyloid plaques, and the clumping of "tau proteins" inside neurons, forming what are
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