The Greater Good: Genetic Research on Human Embryos

2016-02-03-1454537200-5865718-samgrossgeneticengineeringgotusintothismessandgeneticengineeringwillgnewyorkercartoon.jpg

The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool hit the market in early 2012. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, a mouthful condensed as CRISPR, is a defense mechanism through which bacteria combat viruses, in a battle of atomic proportions, by altering the genetic sequencing of the invasive virus.

Researchers have contrived methods with which the CRISPR tool can be used to modify the genetic material of living organisms. This method of genome editing is far superior to previous methods such as Zinc Finger Nucleases, in that it is more precise, easier to perform, cheaper to acquire, and faster to conduct. From disjoining genetic disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s) from our genes, to altering the genetic configuration of mosquitos to reject malaria, imagination is the limit when considering applications of CRISPR. There is much to be said about the history behind this technology and Michael Specter of The New Yorker does exactly that in his brilliant article Source: Sam Gross, The New Yorker Cartoons

So let’s skip past the technicalities. Should CRISPR be used in the modification of human the human genome?

Both Nature and Science, the heaviest of heavyweights in academic journals, carried editorials on discouraging the research of CRISPR on human embryos. Any ill consequence of such research would result in public outcry, stifling an arguably already stifled scientific community. Furthermore, the very systemic ramifications of such edits are barely understood, and incredibly hard to measure, given the impact on future generations. While there are indubitable therapeutic possibilities, particularly in ensuring healthier humans, Lanphier and his colleagues at Nature argue that existing methods such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are controls enough to ensure healthy disease free babies. Science proposes an indefinite moratorium on such research until the technology is better understood. There —> Read More

The Greater Good: Genetic Research on Human Embryos

2016-02-03-1454537200-5865718-samgrossgeneticengineeringgotusintothismessandgeneticengineeringwillgnewyorkercartoon.jpg

The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool hit the market in early 2012. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, a mouthful condensed as CRISPR, is a defense mechanism through which bacteria combat viruses, in a battle of atomic proportions, by altering the genetic sequencing of the invasive virus.

Researchers have contrived methods with which the CRISPR tool can be used to modify the genetic material of living organisms. This method of genome editing is far superior to previous methods such as Zinc Finger Nucleases, in that it is more precise, easier to perform, cheaper to acquire, and faster to conduct. From disjoining genetic disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s) from our genes, to altering the genetic configuration of mosquitos to reject malaria, imagination is the limit when considering applications of CRISPR. There is much to be said about the history behind this technology and Michael Specter of The New Yorker does exactly that in his brilliant article Source: Sam Gross, The New Yorker Cartoons

So let’s skip past the technicalities. Should CRISPR be used in the modification of human the human genome?

Both Nature and Science, the heaviest of heavyweights in academic journals, carried editorials on discouraging the research of CRISPR on human embryos. Any ill consequence of such research would result in public outcry, stifling an arguably already stifled scientific community. Furthermore, the very systemic ramifications of such edits are barely understood, and incredibly hard to measure, given the impact on future generations. While there are indubitable therapeutic possibilities, particularly in ensuring healthier humans, Lanphier and his colleagues at Nature argue that existing methods such as preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are controls enough to ensure healthy disease free babies. Science proposes an indefinite moratorium on such research until the technology is better understood. —> Read More

The Cancer Moonshot Could Depend Most on You

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead an effort toward a “moonshot” cure for cancer. More recently, Vice President Biden met with health care leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos to build momentum for the initiative, and later will meet with agency officials and Cabinet members about how the federal government can fund more research and treatment.

This is an ambitious task, to say the least, especially for a disease whose “cure” is often regarded as synonymous with an impossible dream.

Cancer kills more than half a million Americans every year — more than 1,600 every day. About half of men and a third of women will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetimes.

As an oncologist, I have had to give my patients the terrifying news: “You have cancer.” Nearly 20 years ago, I heard those words myself when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know firsthand how dramatically cancer alters a life whether you are the one diagnosed with the disease or know someone who is.

Despite the enormous complexity of cancer and resources required for a successful moonshot, I am optimistic. From a cure for polio to space exploration, our history is loaded with examples of achieving what was once considered impossible. After all, few foresaw a day when HIV/AIDS could be managed as a chronic disease or even prevented.

Society has already made great progress against cancer. For example, the rates at which some aggressive types of early stage breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma come back have been slashed in half. The American Cancer Society estimates that from 1991 to 2012, —> Read More

Secondary tropical forests absorb carbon at higher rate than old-growth forests

Forests are an important carbon sink. While most attention has focused on old-growth tropical forests, it turns out that secondary forests that re-grow after forest clearance or agricultural abandonment can sequester large amounts of carbon. A large international team of researchers found that carbon uptake in these new-growth tropical forests was surprisingly robust. —> Read More

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