Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Scientists Finally Find a Good MERS Animal Model, but Marmosets a Mixed Blessing

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Scientists Finally Find a Good MERS Animal Model, but Marmosets a Mixed Blessing

Article excerpt

Finally, a good animal model for MERS

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TORONTO - Scientists working to solve the mysteries of the MERS coronavirus have finally filled a gaping hole -- with a very tiny animal.

U.S. researchers have reported that marmosets are a good animal model for the infection, suffering from the same symptoms humans do when they contract the Middle East respiratory syndrome virus.

The researchers reported their work Thursday in the journal PLoS Pathogens. (PLoS is short for Public Library of Science.)

"At the moment it's the best disease model that we have for MERS," one of the senior authors, Dr. Heinz Feldmann, said in an interview.

Animal models are crucial in research, helping scientists tease out how diseases attack the body and chart the damage they do. They are also critical in efforts to develop drugs or treatments for disease, which must be tried on animals before they are tested in people.

But in order for an animal model to work, the animal in question must experience the same type of illness as humans do. And that has been a problem with the MERS virus.

Though it is known the virus infects camels -- and they probably infect people -- the dromedaries don't get noticeably sick when they are infected. Even if they did, the animals are too large to work with easily in high containment laboratories.

Rhesus macaques can be infected with the virus, but they don't experience the severe disease people get. Hamsters and ferrets, which are commonly used in animal studies, also don't work for MERS.

Researchers at the University of Iowa and elsewhere have been working on developing a mouse model for the disease. But work reported earlier this year suggested the first effort also experienced a similar problem; the mice didn't become sick or lose weight.

Now scientists from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases's facility in Hamilton, Mont. …

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