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Biomedical Models and Resources: Current Needs and Future Opportunities
advanced technologies, such as chip technology (Chee 1997). Biotechnology companies are already beginning to invest in this chip technology, and NCRR is less likely to have a large role in it than in more whole-animal-oriented functional analysis. In the second approach, large-scale mutagenesis programs to identify functionally important genes by phenotype will require high-quality, high-resolution genetic and physical maps for rapid, efficient cloning of the genes that underlie the phenotypes. Large mutagenesis screens in zebrafish recently have been undertaken at the Max Planck Institute in Tubingen, Germany, and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA; over 2000 mutations in more than 500 genes essential for embryonic development have been identified, but only nine have been cloned (Zon and others 1997). The National Human Genome Research Institute has already invested substantially in the mouse map. NCRR has already invested in mapping the zebrafish genome and should continue because this initiative will support many areas of biomedical research and is unlikely to be supported by other institutions. In addition, NCRR support of the development of gene maps of other nonmouse species is likely to have a broad impact on biomedical research in many fields.
Medical advances have extended human life expectancy in the United States by nearly 30 years in this century, and an increasing segment of the population is now over 60 and susceptible to diseases and conditions of aging. The aging process itself is increasingly a focus of research. This research has some unique needs. One of them is the use of aged animals, which are very expensive because of the need to hold animals for long periods. There are few resources for providing the aged animals needed by investigators. We heard from the survey and the workshop participants that some individual investigators are unable to purchase these animals through standard grant mechanisms. Standard grant mechanisms also do not allow studies of sufficient length for proper investigation of disease in aged models, such as postmenopausal osteoporosis in nonhuman primates. Demand for such models is likely to rise soon, and NCRR should prepare for this demand.
Some aged rats and mice are subsidized by the National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA also supports aging colonies of nonhuman primates that are maintained at four of the regional primate research centers. Their numbers are small and their availability appears to be not widely known. Aging colonies of other species are not available through either of these mechanisms. Ironically, NCRR is faced with supporting an aging colony of chimpanzees for which there seems to be little use. NCRR could encourage the use of these chimpanzees for research on aging although these animals are not well characterized. A variable tested in aging research is calorie restriction. Studies of calorie-restricted animals would require a group of aged animals.