Don’t drop your diet yet, but scientists have discovered how CRISPR can burn fat

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A personalized therapy for metabolic conditions that are linked to obesity could involve removing a small amount of a person’s fat, transforming it into an energy-burning variation using CRISPR gene-editing, and then re-implanting it into the body, according to researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

In tests involving mice, the implanted human fat cells helped lower sugar concentrations in the blood and decrease fat in the liver. When the mice were put on a high-fat diet, the ones that had been implanted with the human beige fat only gained half as much weight as those that had been implanted with regular human fat.

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Determining if tumor gene testing can select efficacious precision cancer treatment

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NCI-MATCH is a precision medicine cancer trial that seeks to determine whether matching certain drugs or drug combinations in adults whose tumors have specific gene abnormalities will effectively treat their cancer, regardless of their cancer type. Such discoveries could be eligible to move on to larger, more definitive trials. The trial is led by the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group. Credit: ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group

Five years ago, the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (ECOG-ACRIN) and National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, jointly launched a very different kind of cancer study. NCI-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice (NCI-MATCH or EAY131), the largest precision medicine cancer trial to date, sought to match genetic abnormalities driving patients’ tumors with approved or experimental drugs targeting those defects. The type of cancer did not matter. Nearly 6000 cancer patients quickly joined the trial and contributed their tumor specimens for genomic testing. Now, the Journal of Clinical Oncology is publishing an in-depth look into the tumor gene make-up of these patients. It is the largest data set ever compiled on patients with tumors that have progressed on one or more standard treatments, or with rare cancers for which there is no standard treatment. The information contains significant discoveries that tell physicians and patients more about how to use genomic testing to select the best treatments.

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A new CRISPR technique could fix almost all genetic diseases possible

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A new method, called “prime editing,” could, in principle, correct around
89 percent of the mutations that cause inherited human disease.

A less error-prone DNA editing method could correct many more harmful mutations than was previously possible.

Andrew Anzalone was restless. It was late fall of 2017. The year was winding down, and so was his MD/PhD program at Columbia. Trying to figure out what was next in his life, he’d taken to long walks in the leaf-strewn West Village. One night as he paced up Hudson Street, his stomach filled with La Colombe coffee and his mind with Crispr gene editing papers, an idea began to bubble through the caffeine brume inside his brain.

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Humans hava a ‘Salamander-like’ ability to regenerate damaged body parts, study finds

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Axolotls (pictured) have a remarkable ability to regenerate lost body parts.

Salamanders are renowned for their regenerative capabilities, such as growing back entire limbs. We can’t pull off this biological trick, but new research highlights a previously unknown regenerative ability in humans—one held over from our evolutionary past.

Our bodies have retained the capacity to repair injured or overworked cartilage in our joints, says new research published today in Science Advances. Remarkably, the mechanics of this healing process are practically the same as what’s used by amphibians and other animals to regenerate lost limbs, according to the study.

“We call it our ‘inner salamander’ capacity.”

The scientists who identified this previously unknown human capacity are hopeful their findings could lead to powerful new therapies to treat common joint disorders and injuries, including osteoarthritis. More radically, this healing mechanism “might be exploited to enhance joint repair and establish a basis for human limb regeneration,” the authors wrote in the paper.

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Scientists create a device that can mass-produce human embryoids

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These human embryo-like structures (top) were synthesized from human stem cells; they’ve been stained to illustrate different cell types. Images (bottom) of the “embryoids” in the new device that was invented to make them. Yi Zheng/University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Scientists have invented a device that can quickly produce large numbers of living entities that resemble very primitive human embryos.

Researchers welcomed the development, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, as an important advance for studying the earliest days of human embryonic development. But it also raises questions about where to draw the line in manufacturing “synthetic” human life.

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Gene-hacking mosquitoes to be infertile backfired spectacularly

 

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Best-Laid Plans

On its surface, the plan was simple: gene-hack mosquitoes so their offspring immediately die, mix them with disease-spreading bugs in the wild, and watch the population drop off. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite pan out.

The genetically-altered mosquitoes did mix with the wild population, and for a brief period the number of mosquitoes in Jacobino, Brazil did plummet, according to research published in Nature Scientific Reports last week. But 18 months later the population bounced right back up, New Atlas reports — and even worse, the new genetic hybrids may be even more resilient to future attempts to quell their numbers.

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Why do people love coffee and beer? It’s the buzz, not the taste, study finds

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“People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That’s why they drink it. It’s not the taste,” a Northwestern University researcher said.

Whether you prefer a Café Latte or a diet soda may actually depend on how the drink makes you feel, rather than how it tastes, a new study finds.

This idea contradicts what scientists previously thought: that our taste genes determined why we preferred one drink over the other.

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CRISPR is now being used on humans in the U.S.

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The gene editing trial has two patients so far.

CRISPR therapies are entering the mainstream.

The first U.S. trial of CRISPR in humans has begun, NPR reported Tuesday. Two patients are currently being treated as part of a University of Pennsylvania study. Per NPR, both have difficult-to-treat forms of cancer and both have relapsed after regular treatments. As part of the trial, researchers are taking immune cells from the patients’ own bodies and editing them with CRISPR before putting them back in. The hope is that these edited cells will be better at identifying and attacking the cancer than their unaltered counterparts. According to the U.S. government clinical trial registry, the researchers are hoping to enroll 18 people in their study. But it’s not certain yet whether they’ll be approved for that many subjects, reports Jon Fingas for Engadget.

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Should athletes be allowed to enhance their genes?

 

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So-called gene doping is banned in sports, but some philosophers argue that it’s the way of the future

Scientists first developed gene therapy techniques in the 1990s, exploring ways to treat disease by modifying malfunctioning cells. In 1997, a team at John Hopkins University edited genes to create what the media called “Schwarzenegger mice,” which had twice the normal amount of muscle.

The researchers’ goal was to develop treatments for muscle-wasting conditions, including old age, but the same technique could theoretically be used to add muscle bulk to athletes, a concept called gene doping. Doctors could, theoretically, inject cells with enhanced genes into the relevant body part or use a benign virus to deliver modified cells. These superhumans could be the elite athletes of the future — athletes who perform faster, higher, and stronger than any “natural” human ever could.

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The CRISPR machines that can wipe out entire species

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The genetic-engineering tool could help combat malaria and invasive species. But should we use it?

Charles Darwin had no idea what a gene was. If we dropped the father of evolution into 2019, the idea that humans can willfully alter the genes of an entire species would surely seem like wizardry to him.

But CRISPR gene drives — a new, inconceivably powerful technique that forces genes to spread through a population — have the ability to do just that. Gene drives allow us to hone the blunt edges of natural selection for our own purposes, potentially preventing the spread of disease or eradicating invasive pests.

Yet as with any science performed at the frontier of our knowledge, we are still coming to terms with how powerful CRISPR gene drives might be. Playing the game of genomes means we may, in the future, choose which species live and which die — a near-unbelievable capability that scientists and ethicists agree presents us with unique moral, social and ethical challenges.

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Synthetic organisms are about to challenge what ‘alive’ really means

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We need to begin a serious debate about whether artificially evolved humans are our future, and if we should put an end to these experiments before it is too late.

In 2016, Craig Venter and his team at Synthetic Genomics announced that they had created a lifeform called JCVI-syn3.0, whose genome consisted of only 473 genes. This stripped-down organism was a significant breakthrough in the development of artificial life as it enabled us to understand more fully what individual genes do. (In the case of JCVI-syn3.0, most of them were used to create RNA and proteins, preserve genetic fidelity during reproduction and create the cell membrane. The functions of about a third remain a mystery.)

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What researchers with the world’s longest running study of human aging know for sure

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What is aging? That’s the question the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sought to answer in 1958 when it launched the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA)—now the world’s longest-running study of human aging.

Some 3,200 men and women have played a critical role in advancing our understanding of what it means to get older. And these particular volunteers made a lifelong commitment to participate in the research. In over six decades of work, BLSA researchers say they are certain of just two things: Aging is not synonymous with disease. And we all age differently.

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