Workshop on working with non-model vertebrates in Biomedicine

Tanzania TB Program Manager attends workshop in Germany.

Last week in in Berlin, Germany researchers from more than 20 countries gathered to share their experiences working with ‘non-model animals’. APOPO’s Dr. Georgies Mgode, TB Program Manager for Tanzania, was invited to join the event and share from his research experiences presenting African giant pouched rats and olfactory based medical application.

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), together with the European Molecular Biology Organization hosted the workshop “Beyond the standard: Non-model vertebrates in biomedicine” between September 17th-20th. Dr. Mgode along with other researchers at the workshop shared their research findings and experiences working with species not normally found in the lab.

Most biomedical research is carried out using a select few model animals – primarily, mice, zebrafish, fruit flies, worms and yeast. These species are the pillars of biomedical science. Afterall it is beneficial for thousands of labs all over the world to work with the same species: a standard is established, variation is reduced, experiments can be replicated, and findings confirmed. But there are also some drawbacks as studies in these animals don’t always transfer to humans and can take you back to the drawing board following such an attempt.

A growing number of researchers are therefore looking for solutions in other animals, including pythons, bats, whales, voles, Tasmanian devils and naked mole rats. In the research community, these are called non-model organisms.

Dr Mgode’s talk on his research into using detection rats was very well received and the audience appreciated APOPO’s simple approach using a non-model animal to detect tuberculosis. APOPO researches detection rats as a “failsafe” - examining clinic tested human sputum samples delivered from partner clinics in Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia.  Hopefully the workshop will help inspire others to branch out to a non-model organism, including groups researching diseases that have not been able to successfully translate their findings to humans.

APOPO thanks the health authorities as well as our funding partners across the countries in which it works for their continued support of the TB Programs.