Pulse 53: Futuristic Medicine for Healthy Life

20 February 2018
Giulio Prisco

Future Medicine

Many biotech and health sciences news items released last week indicate that advanced biomedical research is advancing on all fronts, and getting closer to clinical applications. New CRISPR variants and cutting-edge applications, clinical nanotechnology and DNA sensors, artificial viruses for enhanced cancer immunotherapy, and advances toward stopping metastatic cancer in its early phases, show that tomorrow’s futuristic medicine is taking shape in today’s research labs.

However, advanced biomedical research needs years to become operational clinical practice, and good lifestyle practices can keep us healthy until then. By the way, yogurt lovers, rejoice: scientists have confirmed that higher yogurt intake is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk among hypertensive men and women.

CRISPR scissors for broad-spectrum, cutting-edge diagnostics. Researchers at UC Berkeley used the CRISPR-Cas12a protein to create a simple diagnostic system called DETECTR to analyze cells, blood, saliva, urine and stool to detect genetic mutations, cancer and antibiotic resistance and also diagnose bacterial and viral infections. A research paper published in Science shows that the protein works as a robust tool to detect DNA from a variety of sources. The scientists intend to push the limits of the technology, which is potentially applicable in any point-of-care diagnostic situation where there is a DNA component, including cancer and infectious disease.

Universal CRISPR genetic scissors. Scientists at the University of Michigan have shown that a Cas9 protein, discovered in meningitis bacteria, can act as precise “scissors” for genetic material, cutting at a desired spot guided by CRISPR RNAs. A study published in Molecular Cell describes how a protein called NmeCas9 can perform CRISPR-style, precise programmable cutting on both DNA and RNA. This protein is among the first few Cas9 proteins to work on both types of genetic material without artificial helper components. The researchers are persuaded that the research results could permit producing universal genetic scissors.

Nanotechnology for dental surgery. Researchers at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have shown that specialized nanotechnology could potentially reduce pain and recovery time in dental surgery. A pre-clinical study published in ACS Nano indicates that the new nanotechnology treatment, based on engineered nanoparticles filled with the enzyme collagenase, has the potential to greatly improve the treatment of severe misalignment of teeth, by allowing the body's own natural enzymes to break down collagen fibers and for other natural biomolecules to rebuild the fibers when the teeth are correctly aligned with braces.

Oncolytic viruses for cancer immunotherapy. Scientists at UC San Francisco have shown that a cancer-killing (“oncolytic”) virus currently in clinical trials may function as a cancer vaccine. A research paper published in Cancer Research describes how, in addition to killing some cancer cells directly, the virus alerts the immune system to the presence of a tumor, triggering a powerful, widespread immune response that kills cancer cells far outside the virus-infected region. The Pexa-Vec virus, originally developed by researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, is developed by San Francisco-based biotech SillaJen Biotherapeutics Inc., a subsidiary of SillaJen Inc., headquartered in Korea.

High-performance DNA nanowire biosensors for clinical applications. Scientists at KTH, the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, and Stockholm University, have developed a nanoengineering innovation that offers hope for treatment of cancer, infections and other health problems. A study published in Microsystems & Nanoengineering shows that conductive wires of DNA, enhanced with gold, could be used to electrically measure hundreds of biological processes simultaneously. The new method produces a unique three-dimensional biosensor that makes it much easier to measure several biomolecules simultaneously, and is also 100 times more sensitive.

Big step toward stopping cancer metastasis. Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have made advances toward new ways to target tumors before they metastasize. A study published in Oncogene shows that a protein called LTBP3 fuels a chain reaction that leads some early developing tumors to grow new blood vessels. These vessels then act like highways to spread cancer cells throughout the body, seeding metastatic tumors very early on. The scientists knocked down LTBP3 expression and secretion in human tumor cell lines representing prostate carcinoma, head and neck carcinoma and a fibrosarcoma, and found that without LTBP3, primary tumor cells could not metastasize efficiently.

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