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Glowing Kittens Help In Fight Against AIDS
by NPR Staff

- September 17, 2011

Here's an experiment: Turn off your lights, shine a blue flashlight on the
cats in the room and look for the ones that turn neon green, like a glow

That's how scientists at the Mayo Clinic identify cats that they've
successfully treated against the feline immunodeficiency virus.

The AIDS epidemic in humans is well-known. Less known is that every year,
millions of cats suffer and die from the disease.

To protect cats against feline AIDS, the Mayo Clinic and colleagues in Japan
devised a treatment with a peculiar side effect. They took monkey genes that
block HIV infection and injected them into cat eggs. Kittens born from those
eggs produced AIDS-resistant protein in the same cells that get infected,
effectively shielding them from the disease. Their offspring are also

To tell the treated cats from the untreated ones, scientists added another
simple ingredient to the mix: jellyfish genes, which make the modified cells
glow a green color.

"It allows you to tell whether the gene of interest is in the cell without
having to do an invasive test," Dr. Eric Poeschla, a molecular biologist
with the Mayo Clinic, tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things
Considered. Scientists simply turn off the lights and shine a blue light to
tell which cats have the AIDS-resistant gene.

The cats don't feel a thing, Poeschla says. "They're healthy and happy and
they're playful."

The feline treatment could help other mammals down the line. The Mayo team
isn't injecting human stem cells with the monkey-jellyfish concoction, but
it is watching the cats for new insights.

"If they have the power to protect, then they could perhaps be used in the
future in human gene therapy," Poeschla says.

Unfortunately, you can't get your own glow-in-the dark kitty just yet.
[Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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