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Research help from Dr. Dolittle's friends


Kicking the habit

Rats trained to press a lever to get an infusion of cocaine pushed the lever less often after being given an experimental drug, nepicastat, according to recent research by Emory scientist Jason Schroeder published in Neuropsychopharmacology. The ability of nepicastat to stave off relapse-like behavior in animals shows promise in helping treat cocaine addiction in humans. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is beginning a clinical trial this spring to test nepicastat in people who are addicted to cocaine. Recent small-scale studies in humans suggest that the drug, which was originally developed for treatment of heart failure, may make cocaine less enjoyable. In the lab of Emory geneticist David Weinshenker, researchers have found that nepicastat makes animals more sensitive to aversive behaviors induced by cocaine, such as repetitive movements. –Quinn Eastman


Doggone tumor

After Petey, a 7-year-old pit bull, was diagnosed with a naturally occurring brain tumor, he underwent surgery at the University of Georgia to partially remove the glioma. After surgery he received an experimental drug that was directly infused into the glioma to target any residual tumor cells. After 15 months, Petey no longer has seizures, he is thriving, and his tumor continues to shrink. Approved by the FDA, the experimental drug was developed by Emory neurosurgeon Costas Hadjipanayis in the Winship Cancer Institute Brain Tumor Nanotechnology Laboratory at Emory. Hadjipanayis hopes to apply findings about the safety and feasibility of using the drug for canine gliomas to treating people with brain cancers. Initial funding for the pilot research came from the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, Winship, the Dana Foundation, and the Boo Radley Foundation. A new grant from the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation will fund a clinical trial at UGA in 15 dogs with spontaneously occurring brain gliomas. –Janet Christenbury


Compassionate bonobos

Juvenile bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo engage in consolation behavior more often than their adult counterparts. The finding—by Emory psychology postdoctoral fellow Zanna Clay and Frans de Waal, C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Primate Research Center—provides key evolutionary insight into how critical social skills may develop in humans. Starting around age 2, human children usually display consolation behavior.

At the sanctuary, most bonobos arrive as young orphans after their parents are killed for meat or captured for pets. A minority of the bonobos there are second generation and raised by biologic mothers. The researchers found that the great apes who were raised by their own mothers were more likely to comfort others compared with those who had been orphaned. Clay believes that this behavior may indicate that early life stress interferes with the development of consolation behavior.

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