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CRISPR Made Spectacular Advances in 2017

1 January 2018
Giulio Prisco


CRISPR gene editing technology has made spectacular advances in 2017 and seems poised to revolutionize all biotech sectors. A recently published book, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, co-authored by Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of the technique, is a fascinating read for everyone.

An MIT Technology Review story titled “Four Amazing Things Gene Editing Did in 2017“ notes that, after the debut of CRISPR a few years ago, advances in the technology have been happening at a breakneck pace, and covers a few of the remarkable things that gene editing did in 2017, also covered in previous Pulse issues. A previous MIT Technology Review story, titled “CRISPR in 2018: Coming to a Human Near You,” noted that patients in Europe and the U.S. could be treated with CRISPR-based therapies as soon as 2018.

International Business Times reports that scientists in Argentina used CRISPR  to rewrite the genomes of cloned horses, producing healthy embryos that are now expected to be implanted into a surrogate mother by 2019, perhaps leading to genetically engineered "super-horses" that are faster and stronger than regular horses.

But things could soon advance even faster: New gene editing tools could soon outshine “old” CRISPR, which “isn’t enough any more,” reads a Wired headline. “Get ready for gene editing 2.0.”

Back to the present, common sense says that regular exercise is good, not only for the heart but also for the brain, and research confirms common sense (see below). “Regular physical exercise has long been shown to have heart health benefits, and now we can say exercise also may help improve memory for people with mild cognitive impairment,” said a Mayo Clinic expert. “Exercising might slow down the rate at which you would progress from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.” The level of exertion should be enough to work up a bit of a sweat but doesn't need to be so rigorous that you can't hold a conversation.

Exercise can improve memory and thinking. A new guideline for medical practitioners, published in Neurology, says they should recommend twice-weekly exercise to people with mild cognitive impairment to improve memory and thinking. Six-month studies showed twice-weekly workouts may help people with mild cognitive impairment as part of an overall approach to managing their symptoms.

Toward understanding the molecular mechanisms behind ALS. Scientists at Hokkaido University have revealed more details of the molecular mechanism behind neuronal cell death in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a step forward to find ways to control progression of the disease. A study published in PLOS ONE shows that specific proteins and nuclear RNAs play an important role in maintaining motor neurons. The researchers are persuaded that further investigation could lead to ways to slow or stop neuronal cell death, and thus ALS patients.

Acoustic mirror for brainwaves helps reducing post-traumatic stress. Neuroscientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have developed a noninvasive “brainwave mirroring” technology that significantly reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress in military personnel in a pilot study. The researchers used computer software algorithms to translate specific brain frequencies into audible tones in real time, enabling the brain to “listen to itself” through an acoustic mirror, and reset stress response patterns that have been established by repetitive traumatic events.

Toward understanding and treating obesity. Scientists at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have found evidence for the existence of an internal body weight sensing system. A research paper published in PNAS provides a first description of “internal bathroom scales” that register body weight and fat mass. If the body weight tends to increase, a signal is sent to the brain to decrease food intake and keep the body weight constant. According to the researchers, more knowledge about the sensing mechanism could lead to a better understanding of the causes of obesity as well as new anti-obesity drugs.

Sugar-coated protein networks enable long-term memories. Scientists at the University of Oslo have found that long-lived extracellular matrix molecules called perineuronal nets, made up of sugar-coated proteins forming a rigid structure, are essential enablers for the brain’s ability to store memories over long periods of time. The research results are published in PNAS. According to the scientists, this research is an important step toward understanding what components are needed to store memories for a lifetime.

Nanowire device can detect cancer with urine test. Researchers at Nagoya University have developed a nanowire device able to detect microscopic levels of urinary markers, which could signal the presence of cancer. In a study published in Science Advances, the scientists show that zinc oxide nanowires embedded in a specialized polymer are highly efficient at capturing microRNA markers that might be associated with cancer.

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