David Mooney Receives Grant To Develop Animal Contraceptive Vaccine

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The vaccine would provide a nonsurgical method for spaying and neutering animals and could greatly reduce rates of euthanasia in the United States

An implantable cancer vaccine developed by Mooney and his team that helps work against cancer cells. Funding will help create a vaccine that halts reproduction in dogs and cats. Credit: Wyss Institute

The Gary Michelson Found Animals Foundation has awarded Harvard bioengineer David Mooney a three-year grant totaling more than $700,000 to pursue development of a vaccine technology that would provide a nonsurgical method for spaying and neutering dogs and cats.

Mooney is a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Mooney’s team will use the grant award to adapt its existing work in implantable and injectable vaccines that activate the body’s immune system to attack cancer or infectious disease. This time, the team hopes to tune the technology towards targeting and disrupting a hormone crucial to reproduction in mammals.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is produced in the brain, regulates the release of hormones from the pituitary gland that control reproduction in both male and female animals. Mooney and his team will explore how their various vaccine immunotherapies, which work by recruiting and activating the body’s immune cells to attack specific agents, could be used to target GnRH and produce antibodies against it, halting the reproductive process.

“As a pet owner myself, I’m excited to receive this grant award to help develop technology that could provide nonsurgical spay and neutering methods for dogs and cats,” Mooney said. “An accessible and affordable way to sterilize pets would reduce the number of animals in shelters and prevent a vast number of euthanizations.”

Michelson Found Animals is a non-profit animal welfare organization that funds scientists who are developing nonsurgical alternatives for sterilizing dogs and cats through its Michelson Prize and Grants for Reproductive Biology program, which offers the $25-million Michelson Prize to the scientist who can provide the first effective product. Development of such a solution would hugely reduce the number of animals entering shelters. Each year in the United States, millions of tax dollars are spent rounding up between six million and eight million homeless, unwanted pets. Ultimately, half of the dogs and cats that end up in shelters are euthanized.

“Immunotherapy is an emerging area of interest in human health and medicine, but the approach is equally as promising for veterinary medicine,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard SEAS. “Using a simple and inexpensive vaccination as a way to sterilize animals could greatly reduce the number of animals ending up in shelters and greatly reduce animal suffering.”

Mooney’s team will use already-FDA-approved materials in new and innovative ways to try to develop a safe approach for spaying and neutering dogs and cats using a one-time, permanent contraceptive vaccine.

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Press Contacts:

Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University
Kat J. McAlpine, katherine.mcalpine@wyss.harvard.edu, +1 617-432-8266

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Caroline Perry, cperry@seas.harvard.edu, +1 617-496-1351

Michelson Found Animals Foundation
Monica Guzman, mguzman@konnect-pr.com, +1 213-988-8344

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University (http://wyss.harvard.edu) uses Nature's design principles to develop bioinspired materials and devices that will transform medicine and create a more sustainable world. Working as an alliance among all of Harvard's Schools, and in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Boston University, Tufts University, and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, University of Zurich and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Institute crosses disciplinary and institutional barriers to engage in high-risk research that leads to transformative technological breakthroughs. By emulating Nature's principles for self-organizing and self-regulating, Wyss researchers are developing innovative new engineering solutions for healthcare, energy, architecture, robotics, and manufacturing. These technologies are translated into commercial products and therapies through collaborations with clinical investigators, corporate alliances, and new start-ups.

The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) serves as the connector and integrator of Harvard's teaching and research efforts in engineering, applied sciences, and technology. Through collaboration with researchers from all parts of Harvard, other universities, and corporate and foundational partners, we bring discovery and innovation directly to bear on improving human life and society. For more information, visit: http://seas.harvard.edu.

The Michelson Found Animals Foundation (http://www.foundanimals.org), funded by Dr. Gary Michelson and his wife Alya Michelson, is a Los Angeles based nonprofit organization that works to achieve one goal: find the big ideas that help reduce the number of pets euthanized in shelters each year. Led by business and medical professionals, we develop innovative solutions that address the underlying causes of shelter euthanasia. Programs address pet adoption, low-cost spay neuter services, pet microchipping and registration, and sterilization research. By offering a wealth of educational resources to pet owners and animal care professionals, Found Animals advances the health and safety of animals everywhere. For more information on the Michelson Prize & Grants: visit: http://www.michelsonprizeandgrants.org

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