March 7, 2014
Establishing standards where none exist: Researchers define ‘good’ stem cells
(Phys.org) – But what makes a “good” stem cell, one that can reliably be used in drug development, and for disease study? Researchers have made enormous strides in understanding the process of cellular reprogramming, and how and why stem cells commit to becoming various types of adult cells. But until now, there have been no standards, no criteria, by which to test these ubiquitous cells for their ability to faithfully adopt characteristics that make them suitable substitutes for patients for drug testing. And the need for such quality control standards becomes ever more critical as industry looks toward manufacturing products and treatments using stem cells.
Genetic cause found for premature ovarian failure
(Medical Xpress) – A team led by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council and the University of Salamanca has found a genetic cause for premature ovarian failure, a disorder affecting 1 percent of women that provokes the loss of ovarian function years before menopause. The results, published in The New England Journal of Medicine and Human and Molecular Genetics journals, demonstrate for the first time that mutation in STAG3 gene is the major cause of human fertility disorders as it provokes a loss of function of the protein it encodes.
Connecticut voters back assisted-suicide bill almost 2-1
(NBC Connecticut) – Connecticut voters support allowing doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs to help terminally ill patients end their own lives, a Quinnipiac University poll released today finds. “Public support for allowing assisted dying in Connecticut is a very personal issue, crossing partisan, gender and age lines,” Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said in a statement.
‘Do it yourself’ surrogate pregnancy ends in legal chaos with three-year-old boy effectively having two mothers
(Daily Mail) – A judge has warned of the dangers of informal surrogacy agreements after a woman found she had no parental rights to the baby she had asked her friend to conceive with her husband. The ‘do it yourself’-style surrogate pregnancy ended in the High Court after the boy, now three, was effectively left with two mothers. Unable to have children of her own, a woman asked a close friend to be artificially inseminated at home with her husband’s sperm.
Wombs for rent: The Indian baby farms transforming the lives of poverty-stricken women who are paid to carry babies for wealthy foreigners
(Daily Mail) – Indian ‘baby farms’ are thriving as demand from couples from developed countries, including the UK, soars. Infertile couples are turning to women in India to carry and give birth to their children, as commercial surrogacy is not legal in certain countries, or if it is legal, can be prohibitively expensive. The money these women are earn – as much as £4,700 per pregnancy – is transforming communities.
March 6, 2014
Gene-editing method tackles HIV in first clinical trial
(Nature) – A clinical trial has shown that a gene-editing technique can be safe and effective in humans. For the first time, researchers used enzymes called zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) to target and destroy a gene in the immune cells of 12 people with HIV, increasing their resistance to the virus. The findings are published today in The New England Journal of Medicine. “This is the first major advance in HIV gene therapy since it was demonstrated that the ‘Berlin patient’ Timothy Brown was free of HIV,” says John Rossi, a molecular biologist at the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California.
Artificial organs may finally get a blood supply
(MIT Technology Review) – In what may be a critical breakthrough for creating artificial organs, Harvard researchers say they have created tissue interlaced with blood vessels. Using a custom-built four-head 3-D printer and a “disappearing” ink, materials scientist Jennifer Lewis and her team created a patch of tissue containing skin cells and biological structural material interwoven with blood-vessel-like structures. Reported by the team in Advanced Materials, the tissue is the first made through 3-D printing to include potentially functional blood vessels embedded among multiple, patterned cell types.
Dementia death toll may be worse than cancer
(The Telegraph) – The number of people dying from dementia has being vastly underestimated with the disease potentially responsible for more deaths than cancer and heart disease combined, new research suggests. A study from the US has found that Alzheimer’s and dementia is widely under-reported on death certificates and medical records.
Bionic arm gives cyborg drummer superhuman skills
(New Scientist) – JASON BARNES had wanted to be a professional drummer since he was a teenager. But when he lost his arm in a freak accident he thought his dream was over. Now he has a second chance at the big time – thanks to a brand new robotic arm. Barnes lost the lower half of his right arm two years ago, after getting an electric shock while cleaning a vent hood in a restaurant. But he refused to give up on his musical dream, so he built a simple drumming device out of a brace and some springs that attached to his arm.
New findings on neurogenesis in the spinal cord
(Medical News Today) – Research from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden suggests that the expression of the so called MYC gene is important and necessary for neurogenesis in the spinal cord. The findings are being published in the journal EMBO Reports. The MYC gene encodes the protein with the same name, and has an important role in many cellular processes such as proliferation, metabolism, cell death and the potential of differentiation from immature stem cells to different types of specialized cells. Importantly it is also one of the most frequently activated genes in human cancer.
Early treatment is found to clear H.I.V. in a 2nd baby
(New York Times) – When scientists made the stunning announcement last year that a baby born with H.I.V. had apparently been cured through aggressive drug treatment just 30 hours after birth, there was immediate skepticism that the child had been infected in the first place. But on Wednesday, the existence of a second such baby was revealed at an AIDS conference here, leaving little doubt that the treatment works. A leading researcher said there might be five more such cases in Canada and three in South Africa.
Widow wins frozen sperm legal fight
(BBC) – Beth Warren’s husband had sperm frozen before starting cancer treatment and signed paperwork saying his wife could use the sperm after his death. He died from a brain tumour two years ago, but regulations meant his sperm were due to be destroyed in April 2015. Mrs Warren, 28, said this defied common sense and the High Court has now backed her case.
Chemotherapy in last months of life associated with increased risk of dying away from home
(Eurekalert) – The use of chemotherapy in terminally-ill cancer patients in the last months of life is associated with increased risk of undergoing resuscitation and dying in an intensive care unit, suggests a paper published on bmj.com today. The researchers suggest that end-of-life discussions may be particularly important for patients receiving chemotherapy and suggest that caregivers should ensure that patients are aware of their prognosis, likely outcomes of treatment and that their choices are aligned with their end-of-life values.
Study finds genetic link between height and IQ
(Medical Xpress) – A team of researchers at Edinburgh University in Scotland has found a correlation between genes associated with height and those associated with intelligence. In their paper published in the journal Behavior Genetics, the group describes how they studied the DNA of 6,815 unrelated people and discovered what they describe as a direct correlation between height and intelligence—taller people are smarter, they say.
Study comparing injectable contraceptives DMPA and NET-EN finds HIV risk higher with DMPA
(Medical Xpress) – Women who used an injectable contraceptive called DMPA were more likely to acquire HIV than women using a similar product called NET-EN, according to a secondary analysis of data from a large HIV prevention trial called VOICE, researchers from the National Institutes of Health-funded Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) reported today at the 21st Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston. An unexpected finding in the study was that the combination of being positive for herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) and using DMPA for contraception was associated with a higher risk of HIV compared to women using NET-EN and who were also HSV-2 positive.
“Biological time travel”
(Harvard Magazine) – From glowing fish to bacteria that can count, synthetic biologists are now able to create life forms never before seen on earth. “Historians and Ecclesiastes be damned,” says Sophia Roosth, assistant professor in the history of science. “In the first decades of the twenty-first century, a number of things are new under the sun.” In a lecture last Wednesday drawn from her forthcoming book, Synthetic: How Life Got Made, Roosth, a Joy Foundation Fellow this year at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, described her analysis of recent attempts at “de-extinction,” the effort to recreate extinct or endangered species using modern technologies.
Japanese scientists release tips on reproducing stem-cell work
(The Wall Street Journal) – A leading Japanese research institute on Wednesday released new tips on methods its scientists used to create stem cells in hopes of dispelling skepticism over what has been touted as a breakthrough technique. The Riken Center for Developmental Biology said additional procedural methods for the studies led by Riken biologist Haruko Obokata will be released on the British journal Nature’s online Protocol Exchange site where scientists share their experimental know-how.
Stem cells to treat lung disease in infants
(Asian Scientist) – A phase I clinical study conducted by researchers in Korea has found that it is safe and feasible to use stem cell therapies for preventing and treating lung disease in preterm infants. Advances in neonatal care for very preterm infants have greatly increased the chances of survival for these fragile infants. However, preterm infants have an increased risk of developing bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a serious lung disease, which is a major cause of death and lifelong complications.
Thailand offers tourists a chance to win a new face
(CNN) – Fancy a different face but can’t afford to go under the knife? Thailand’s Tourism Authority has launched an Extreme Makeover contest, offering three lucky ladies a chance to win free facial surgery along with a shot at $5,000 and a luxury vacation. To enter, you’ll have to submit photos showing your face from various angles, along with a health profile and written explanation of why you so badly covet a makeover.
‘How We Die’ author Nuland dies in Conn. at age 83
(ABC News) – Dr. Sherwin Nuland, a medical ethicist who opposed assisted suicide and wrote an award-winning book about death called “How We Die,” has died at age 83. He died of prostate cancer on Monday at his home in Hamden, said his daughter Amelia Nuland, who recalled how he told her he wasn’t ready for death because he loved life.
March 5, 2014
Epigenetics: The sins of the father
(Nature) – Biologists first observed this ‘transgenerational epigenetic inheritance’ in plants. Tomatoes, for example, pass along chemical markings that control an important ripening gene. But, over the past few years, evidence has been accumulating that the phenomenon occurs in rodents and humans as well. The subject remains controversial, in part because it harks back to the discredited theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a nineteenth-century French biologist who proposed that organisms pass down acquired traits to future generations.