Round-up July 18th – 30th

Reports of the first genetic modification of embryos in the US by scientist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who previously created the first cloned monkeys and has cloned human embryos via cloning. The as yet un-published work applied CRISPR at the point of fertilization, thus “getting in early”, and presumably avoiding mosaicism. Previous modification of human embryos was reported by Chinese teams. At one stage it looked like a moratorium would be issued for human germline modification in the US, but a NASAM report in February of this year stopped short of that. My take on that report is here. Although clinical applications of such research would not be legal in the US, the research paves a way to a genetically modified future for humanity.

In other big genetic modification news, CRISPR has been used to restore muscle function for mice with Muscular Dystrophy. Whereas most approached to date rely on homology-directed repair, this study uses nonhomologous end-joining.

The next round of the CRISPR patent battle commences, with an appeal led by UC Berkeley against their East Coast rivals, led by the Broad. The UC group unquestionably first demonstrated use of CRISPR for genome editing. But the Boston group first applied the technique to eukaryotic cells. The California group’s case turns on their argument that this use was obvious.

Meanwhile, the FDA is one step closer to approving the first ever gene therapy.

Helix have launched their app store for your genome”. For an initial $80, costumers will have their exome sequenced. They will then be able to buy Apps on the Helix store, each of which will plug in to a bit of this data and return information to the customer. The idea is that customers will come back again and again. Geneticist Daniel MacArthur has concerns: “Promoting tests with little or no scientific backing runs the risk of inflating customer expectations and ultimately undermining consumer confidence in genuinely clinically useful genetic tests,” Another geneticist, Stephen Montgomery, has launched a satirical take on direct-to-consumer genetic tests, which then went viral.

MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, has long been supposed to have evolved following the widespread adoption of methicilin in clinical practice. But new research suggests that MRSA evolved before the adoption of methicilin, and the resistance instead evolved in response to penicillin and other first generation drugs.

A key combination immunotherapy trial failed, stoking criticisms that this approach ahs been over-hyped.

A biotech executive and cancer patient on resetting expectations about cancer treatments: “I think everybody thinks cancer’s just about to be cured, when we have a little bit more work to do… I think if we can pop that bubble or at least reset people to have dialed down expectations for some of these breakthroughs make that in the public’s best interest.”

A bill that continues to allow the FDA to charge pharma companies to review their products must be passed by Congress, but is being held up by a Senator who wants to insert a “Right to Try” clause as an amendment. A medical ethicist argues why the inclusion of a right to try” clause would undermine clinical trials.

Why are dogs more friendly than wolves? The canine equivalent of a region associated with Williams-Beuren syndrome in humans — a condition marked by hypersocialability amongst other things — has been found to be under positive selection in domestic dogs.



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