The laboratory of Applied Veterinary Morphology focuses on animal-centered research. Research on non-rodent animal models during (pre- and postnatal) development, i.c. (mini)pig and zebrafish, can significantly contribute to the unraveling of certain human pathological conditions (such as prematurity, malformations and gastrointestinal disorders). In addition, these research results provide insight into the equivalent veterinary but also zootechnical disorders (such intrauterine growth retardation and wasting). Finally, a better understanding of the developmental changes within these animal models will assist in the interpretation of preclinical data.
Approximately 16% of the newborn piglets and ± 5% of the children suffer from intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR). In both species, IUGR is associated with an increased perinatal morbidity and mortality. Our research aims to unravel the effect of IUGR and of feed compounds and alternative rearing strategies (i.c. early weaning; artificial rearing) on the functional morphological development of particularly the gastrointestinal tract via in vivo and in vitro assays. As the immunological resistance of IUGR individuals against infections is low, we are also investigating the development and function of the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) in neonatal IUGR and normal piglets under different rearing conditions. The knowledge gained will enable to fine-tune weaning strategies and the composition of milk replacers or additives in order to maximize the zootechnical performances of piglets and hence the cost-effectiveness of pork production. In addition to the study of IUGR piglets, we are also investigating the ontogeny of biotransformation in minipigs and zebrafish. These latter species are increasingly used to support risk assessment of drugs in the paediatric population and in the unborn child, respectively. We are investigating cytochrome P450 expression and activity in juvenile minipigs in order to correctly interpret the results of juvenile toxicity studies in this species and thus not over- or underestimate the risk for the intended paediatric population. Additionally, we are evaluating the biotransformation in the zebrafish embryo in order to optimize this model as a screening tool for teratogenicity.
To put our research mission into a one-liner: research on non-rodent animal models that focuses on the development of the gut and biotransformation capacities.