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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
March 5, 2014
Injections providing protection against AIDS in monkeys, studies find
(New York Times) – Researchers are reporting that injections of long-lasting AIDS drugs protected monkeys for weeks against infection, a finding that could lead to a major breakthrough in preventing the disease in humans. Two studies by different laboratory groups each found 100 percent protection in monkeys that got monthly injections of antiretroviral drugs, and there was evidence that a single shot every three months might work just as well.
Hospital antibiotics use can put patients at risk, study says
(Washington Post) – Doctors in some hospitals prescribe up to three times as many antibiotics as doctors at other hospitals, putting patients at greater risk for deadly superbug infections, according to a federal study released Tuesday. In addition, about one-third of the time, prescriptions to treat urinary tract infections and prescriptions for the drug vancomycin were given without proper testing or evaluation, or prescribed for too long, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alzheimer’s in a dish
(Harvard Gazette) – Harvard stem cell scientists have successfully converted skins cells from patients with early onset Alzheimer’s into the types of neurons that are affected by the disease, making it possible for the first time to study this leading form of dementia in living human cells. This may also make it possible to develop therapies more quickly and accurately than before.
March 4, 2014
Heart implants, 3-D printed to order
(MIT Technology Review) – It’s a poetic fact of biology that everyone’s heart is a slightly different size and shape. And yet today’s cardiac implants—medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators—are basically one size fits all. Among other things, this means these devices, though lifesaving for many patients, are limited in the information they can gather. Researchers recently demonstrated a new kind of personalized heart sensor as part of an effort to change that. The researchers used images of animals’ hearts to create models of the organ using a 3-D printer. Then they built stretchy electronics on top of those models. The stretchy material can be peeled off the printed model and wrapped around the real heart for a perfect fit.
A powerful new way to edit DNA
(New York Times) – Already the molecular system, known as Crispr, is being used to make genetically engineered laboratory animals more easily than could be done before, with changes in multiple genes. Scientists in China recently made monkeys with changes in two genes. Scientists hope Crispr might also be used for genomic surgery, as it were, to correct errant genes that cause disease. Working in a laboratory — not, as yet, in actual humans — researchers at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands showed they could fix a mutation that causes cystic fibrosis.
Consumers should be wary when a doctor prescribes a drug for ‘off-label’ treatment
(Washington Post) – You probably assume that when your doctor prescribes a medication, the Food and Drug Administration has approved it for your specific condition. But sometimes doctors prescribe drugs to treat conditions other than the ones for which they were approved. Such “off-label” use, although legal, might not be a good first-choice treatment. Yet about one in five prescriptions are written for an unapproved use. An analysis by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has evaluated some of the drugs most often prescribed off-label.
Heart problems linked to those born with H.I.V.
(New York Times) – Children born with H.I.V. are more likely to have heart problems later in life, even if they are treated early with antiretroviral drugs, a recent study has found. The study was based on medical exams of 165 American teenagers born with H.I.V., but is applicable to the three million children in the world living with the virus, said the lead author, Kunjal Patel, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Indian hospitals are doing a roaring trade in medical tourists from Afghanistan
(Time) – Last week, a report by international charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) said one in every five of the patients interviewed had a family member or close friend who had died within the last year due to a lack of access to medical care. Aid money can’t always fix the problem. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) recently revealed that construction defects, and a lack of water, staff and and power, meant that the Salang Hospital in Parwan province was unable to function properly, despite the fact that over half a million dollars had been spent on it.
Women’s health harmed as medical studies miss gender differences
(Chicago Tribune) – Scientists continue to neglect gender in medical research, endangering women’s health by focusing on males in studies that shape the treatment of disease, according to a report released Monday. The lack of attention to gender differences occurs at all stages of research, from lab to doctor’s office, according to the report released by the Connors Center for Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at George Washington University in Washington.
Lifesaving implants complicate end-of-life care
(The Boston Globe) – More than a decade has passed, but Nathan Goldstein, then a medical resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, still remembers it clearly. A man with terminal lung cancer had planned to die at home with hospice care. Instead, the man was lying on a stretcher in the busy emergency room. Every few minutes, his heart received a shock from his internal defibrillator, preventing his heart from stopping.
How can we reduce end-of-life health-care costs?
(The Wall Street Journal) – Balancing cost, care and quality of life near death remains a puzzle for policy makers, practitioners, and of course, patients and their families. With this difficult calculus in mind, we asked The Experts: How can we reduce end-of-life health-care costs? This discussion relates to the latest Health Care Report and formed the basis of a discussion on The Experts blog on Feb. 26 and 27.
March 3, 2014
Brain zap can ‘wake’ nearly-comatose patients
(ABC News) – Researchers in Belgium have found that mild electrical stimulation can temporarily rouse nearly-comatose patients, according to a study from the April issue of Neurology. During the study the patients, all of whom were either minimally conscious or in vegetative state, underwent mild electrical stimulation for 20 minutes at a time. Researchers found that 15 of the minimally conscious patients responded to the stimulation by becoming more responsive and two were even able to communicate nonverbally with researchers. Those in a vegetative state did not show any reaction.
Whose genome is it anyway? Doctors face dilemmas over risk knowledge
(U.S. News and World Report) – When you break your arm and get an X-ray, those results are mostly only significant to you – they don’t affect your brother, your sister, your parents or that distant cousin of yours in Alaska. But genetic testing is different, explains Dr. Mark Robson, clinic director of the Clinical Genetics Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Targeted genetic tests – such as tests for Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease and certain types of cancer – yield results that can have dramatic and unpredictable consequences for family members. For doctors, deciding whom to test, when to return results and whom those results might impact is perhaps even more complex.