This is a guest post from a member of Science in the News (SITN), an organization of PhD students at Harvard University whose mission is to bring the newest and most relevant science to a general audience. For over a decade, SITN has been presenting a fall lecture series at Harvard Medical School, with talks on a diversity of current and newsworthy topics, such as stem cell biology and climate change. SITN also publishes the Flash, an online newsletter written by graduate students at Harvard, which presents current scientific discoveries and emerging fields in an accessible and entertaining manner. SITN engages in additional outreach activities such as "Science by the Pint", and hopes students at other institutions will also make the commitment to strengthen science communication.
The following post is from Harvard graduate student Rou-Jia Sung. The phrase "obsessive compulsive" has become such a part of the pop lexicon that it merits three separate entries on urbandictionary.com. However, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a serious illness that affects between 1 in 50 and 1 in100 adults in the US and is more prevalent than panic disorder or bipolar disorder. Several antidepressants are approved by the FDA for treatment of OCD, but the molecular details for understanding why certain people suffer from OCD remain unclear. Recently though, scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York have generated a mouse that exhibits several hallmark signs of the disorder, providing a valuable tool towards understanding and developing potential new treatments for OCD. The group focused in on a relatively new group of genes found to be important for neural development, the Slitrk gene family, and in particular the Slitrk5 gene. When the gene was inactivated, those mice displayed more anxiety-like behaviors (for example, an unwillingness to be in an open space) than control mice that did not have the gene inactivated. Most strikingly, the anxious mice also developed facial lesions and sores that were the result of overgrooming themselves--perhaps the mouse version of the excessive hand-washing behavior that is found in human sufferers of OCD. The Great Beyond blog over at Nature has a nice video of the mice and more explanation by researchers. With the rapid proliferation of mouse models for various human diseases, the hope that new treatments and cures can be found has continued to skyrocket. However, there are certainly limitations to how far one can interpret a mouse version of a human disease (such as a sex bias skewing drug trial results). Generating mouse models has been a classic tool for decades now--but given the rapid advancement of science today, should we be looking out for better ways to recapitulate and study human disease?