Scientists at the UMBI's Institute of Human Virology developed the rat model to benefit researchers who study the pathogenesis and the development of new drugs to treat AIDS and related diseases.
Harlan, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, and multiple sites in the U.S. as well as several European countries and Israel, provides research-related products to domestic and international research programs of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, universities, and government agencies in over 30 countries.
"Because Harlan is one of the largest producers of rodents commonly used in biomedical research, as well as producers of specific animal models," says Joseph L. Bryant, Director of UMBI's Animal Core Facility, "this model will soon be commonly available to researchers who are interested in studying the effects of HIV-1 gene expression in different organ systems of the body." Bryant adds that his laboratory is producing other HIV transgenic rats, and has recently started on developing embryonic stem cells from rats.
"We are extremely pleased to collaborate with the UMBI in the further development and distribution of this unique animal model to the worldwide research community. We look forward to the major contributions that it will provide to research related to combating the HIV virus," stated Jack R. McGinley, Executive Vice President, Harlan. "We anticipate having animals available for distribution within the next few months." The company also has an option to license subsequent strains of the HIV rat from UMBI.
Bryant says the HIV rat model is genetically engineered to contain the entire genome of the AIDS virus HIV-1 except for two genes that make the virus non-infectious. The rats cannot transmit the disease to humans.
The HIV transgenic rat is an excellent model for tracking of the clinical, cellular, and immunologic course of HIV-1 in humans. According to Bryant, "It will be especially effective in testing potential therapeutic strategies against chronic AIDS-associated conditions or syndrome."
By five to nine months of age, the HIV-1 transgenic rats develop clinical signs similar to those of AIDS in humans, including weight loss, skeletal muscle atrophy or "wasting," neurological abnormalities, and respiratory problems. Many of the rats also suffered from mild-to-severe skin lesions, kidney disease, and cardiac disorders, all of which have been reported in chronically HIV-infected humans.
The HIV rats are also more efficient than mouse models for blood and tissue specimens. Organ studies are also easier with the larger animals.
In the context of worldwide HIV studies, Bryant adds, "It is hoped that this will allow the development of drugs for prevention of many of the chronic disorders that occur in AIDS patients. And in the long run this is an important building block, a small animal model through transgenic technology, which will also accelerate vaccine work."
The University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute was mandated by the state of Maryland legislature in 1985 as "a new paradigm of state economic development in biotech-related sciences." With five major research and education centers across Maryland, UMBI is dedicated to advancing the frontiers of biotechnology. The centers are the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology in Rockville; Center for Biosystems Research in College Park; and Center of Marine Biotechnology, Medical Biotechnology Center, and the Institute of Human Virology, all in Baltimore.