This week, we had a chance to catch up with Dr. Thom Saunders, Managing Director of the Transgenic Animal Model Core. Dr. Saunders has served as Director of the core since 2012 and is a Research Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Saunders has also been an employee of the core since its founding year, 1989.

What has your core been working on in response to the pandemic?

Critical research projects during the COVID-19 research ramp down are being carried out in the Transgenic Animal Model Core. These projects are focused on generating on mouse and rat models that make the human ACE2 (Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) and the CD147 (Basigin) proteins instead of the mouse and rat proteins. ACE2 and CD147 are the receptors proteins that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus binds to before entering and infecting cells. Interestingly, the orthologous mouse and rat Ace2 and Cd147 proteins are not efficient coronavirus receptors. The replacement of the mouse and rat proteins with the human coronavirus receptors will produce useful animal models for infection, immunization and vaccine research.

What do you see for the future of your core after we all return to work?

The Transgenic Core collects fertilized eggs from mice and rats and manipulates the embryos to generate new animal models for research. The first step we will take when we resume normal operations is to purchase new mice an rats from vendors to establish the mouse and rat colonies we need to produce mouse and rat embryos and to produce female pseudopregnant animals into which manipulated eggs are transferred for gestation and the birth of genetically engineered pups. The Transgenic Core has a number of projects where the reagents are ready to go and waiting in freezers. Once the animal colonies are available it will be a simple matter preparing these reagents and introducing them into mouse and rat embryos for transgenic production.

What are you looking forward to most for when we get back to normal?

Upon returning to work I am looking forward to resuming the easy camaraderie with my colleagues in the Transgenic Core, in the other Biomedical Research Core Facilities, and across all the research labs that we interact with across campus. As useful as video conferences are, they cannot substitute for an in person meeting of a colleague with a cup to discuss an ambitious genetic engineering project.

Thank you again to Dr. Saunders for sharing how the Transgenic Animal Model Core is supporting the efforts to combat COVID-19 at Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan.

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