The Keeling Center has several active research programs, including Basic Research, Behavioral Research and Resource-Related Research programs. We provide disease surveillance, diagnostic services, production of unique biologics, tissue banking, GLP drug safety testing and research support for clinicians and investigators at MD Anderson, as well as external investigators, interested in using our unique resources.
Alzheimer's Disease Research
With collaborators at the New York University School of Medicine, we are exploring the use of an adjuvant to induce a targeted immune response without producing excessive and sustained inflammation aimed at eliminating beta amyloid plaques from the brains of aged squirrel monkeys. Cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) is one of the morphologic changes seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients that has been associated with dementia and intracranial hemorrhage. A protein, beta amyloid, when deposited in and around the vessels in the brain, disrupts normal blood flow, particularly when associated with small blood vessels, capillaries. Squirrel monkeys naturally develop these amyloid plaques and can serve as a model for exploring therapies. Using a combination of memory tests and MRI scans, we hope to show effectiveness and safety of this novel immunomodulatory therapeutic approach.
Our research pioneered vaccine development against HIV. We are also developing a prime-boost vaccine delivered using bioengineered viral vectored and adjuvanted protein, for mucosal route as a needle-free, safer and more practical approach for global application. Another project is focused on targeting persistent HIV reservoirs and noel nanochannel drug delivery system (nDS).
Zika Virus Research
Applied Behavioral Management Research
Our studies of behavioral management (environmental enrichment, positive reinforcement training, and socialization strategies) in our nonhuman primate colonies have identified a number of beneficial behavioral management strategies that are currently being implemented in our colonies and disseminated to other groups of primate users across the globe. Our behavioral management research is designed to identify the ‘next level’ of care for captive nonhuman primates and emphasizes the provision of opportunities for our animals to voluntarily participate in all aspects of their daily care and contributions to research.
Collaborative Basic Research
Nonhuman primates are outstanding models for research projects designed to understand the ‘evolution’ of a variety of complex social and cognitive processes in humans. In collaboration with investigators in the US and the UK, we are working with our animals on projects designed to address questions related to the evolution of language, culture, prosociality, and personality. The combination of our cognitive, social, genetic, anatomical, and personality datasets has resulted in analyses that are critical for understanding not only human behavior, but the behavior of nonhuman primates as well.
Breast Cancer Research
Our scientists have developed a highly relevant model of the human breast utilizing mammary gland cells obtained from macaques. In this model, a small mammary gland biopsy is obtained from anesthetized macaques. The cells obtained from these biopsies are then grown using specialized liquid media in petri dishes to form spherical structures “mammospheres” (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Free-floating Mammospheres formed from the growth of macaque mammary gland cells that were plated in petri dishes utilizing a specialized liquid media.
Figure 2. Mammosphere suspended in gelatinous media where it underwent “budding” to form ducts and alveoli (arrow) that are critical to normal mammary gland function (milk production).
Chagas Disease Research
Chagas disease is caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and is transmitted by kissing bugs. About 8 million people in Latin America are infected; 20-30% of them will develop disease later in life including heart disease, cardiac arrest, or enlarged colon. Current therapies are significantly limited: antiparasitic medications which are only effective for short periods following initial often asymptomatic infection, and symptomatic treatment for chronic disease such as pacemakers. Developing a safe and effective vaccine against T. cruzi is critically important.
With our collaborators at the Baylor School of Medicine and Texas A&M University, we are characterizing naturally-occurring Chagas disease in a small subset of our rhesus monkeys. The goal is to develop the rhesus monkey as an animal model of Chagas disease, which will play an essential role in developing better therapeutics to combat this devastating disease.
Triatomine insects, also called “kissing bugs” are required for complete development of infective stages of T. cruzi.