In our era of instant gratification, the world of medicine seems like an outlier. The path from a promising discovery to an effective treatment often takes a decade or more.
But from that process—of fits and starts, progress and setbacks and finally more progress—grow the insights and advances that change the course of medicine.
A decade ago, the completion of the Human Genome Project sparked optimism that cures for debilitating diseases were just around the corner. Cures still generally elude us, but now the ability to map human DNA cheaply and quickly is yielding a torrent of data about the genetic drivers of disease—and a steady stream of patients who are benefiting from the knowledge. On other fronts, technology is putting more power in the hands of patients, and researchers are learning to combat disorders by harnessing the body’s own ability to heal and grow.
Excerpt from an article by Ron Winslow at the Wall Street Journal. Continue HERE
Earlier this week, in questioning the significance of a “scientists find internet-addiction gene” story, I conceded that the scientific study in question did find something interesting: A gene that seems to be (very modestly) correlated with internet addiction also plays a role in nicotine addiction.
Maybe this nicotine connection is what prompted the German scientist who was the lead author of the study to declare that, thanks to his work, we now know that “internet addiction is not a figment of our imagination.” After all, if a gene involved in a manifestly chemical addiction, like nicotine addiction, is also involved in something people doubt is literally an addiction, then that should remove the doubt, no?
No. Whether heavy internet use deserves to be called an addiction or just a hard-to-break habit is a question about a behavior pattern and its attendant psychological states. To answer it we ask such things as how strong the cravings for the internet are, what lengths a person will go to in order to satisfy them, and so on. But even if we decide, after answering such questions, that a given person’s internet dependence amounts only to a habit, and doesn’t warrant the “addiction” label, it still makes sense that genes which mediate chemical addictions–nicotine, cocaine, whatever–would be involved.
Excerpt of an article written by Robert Wright, The Atlantic. Continue HERE
The Olympic Isle on opening night was “full of noises, / Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not”. The lion of the industrial revolution could lie down with the lamb. But beneath the fantasy a sewer ran, diverted but untamed: the specter of doping. And not just doping, because this is the age of genomics: gene doping.
The man who came to warn of this prospect is himself a Spector: Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the author of this book. The means by which gene doping might be achieved (no one is sure whether it has yet been, or in practice can be, done) is Spector’s field of expertise: epigenetics. So he has become a media pundit during the Olympics, but his real subject is twins and what they tell us about genes. Identical twins are a unique test of genes in action because, having come from a single fertilized egg, they have identical genomes, all 3bn letters of them. They are clones.
The point about twins and identical genes is that genes in action do some strange things that we are only just beginning to understand – identical genes can diverge in their expression during the course of a lifetime. This is epigenetics. It is now generally accepted that personal experience can change our genes. If you practice music for six hours a day and become a great musician, your brain will show recognizable changes both in large-scale anatomy and genetically. London cabbies have “knowledge” – enhanced regions of the brain that start to recede when they retire. The chemical processes that alter the genes in epigenesis – methylation and deacetylation of the packaging proteins of the genes, the histones – are fairly well understood.
Excerpt from an article written by Peter Forbes at The Guardian. Continue HERE
ANCIENT HISTORY: The layers of sediment excavated in Denisova Cave (top left) and its surroundings have yielded such artifacts as chipping tools (top right), a fragment of a pinky bone, and a molar. DNA in the bone and molar led to the identification of a new hominin group, the Denisovans.Photos: Courtesy of David Reich (top left, top right, bottom right); Courtesy of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (bottom left, middle right)
Perched in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia, and overlooking the Anui River and its surrounding forest, is the Denisova Cave. It is not a particularly large natural structure, but its high ceilings, central limestone chimney, and location near abundant food sources have made it an inviting shelter for humans and animals for tens of thousands of years.
“It’s kind of a magical cave,” says David Reich, an HMS professor of genetics who traveled to the site this past summer. It was a rugged trip, covering 5,500 miles on a 48-hour journey that began in Boston, touched London and Moscow, and finished with a bumpy 10-hour van ride to the Denisova Cave, near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan. But Reich, whose affiliation with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard means he’s more often surrounded by gene sequencers than Stone Age tools, took the opportunity to step inside this remote refuge to witness the resting spot of ancient DNA that had been preserved in bone fragments buried deep in cave sediments.
For the past year, Reich and an international team of evolutionary geneticists have been coaxing information from that DNA. What they’ve found has changed our understanding of human history.
DOWN TO EARTH: Excavation of Denisova Cave, a site overseen by the Russian Academy of Sciences, is an ongoing venture involving international teams of researchers. Photo: Courtesy of David Reich
Text and Images via Harvard Medicine. Continue HERE
Adam Rutherford meets a new creature created by American scientists – the spider-goat. It is part goat, part spider, and its milk can be used to create artificial spider’s web.
It is part of a new field of research, synthetic biology, with a radical aim: to break down nature into spare parts so that we can rebuild it however we please.
This technology is already being used to make bio-diesel to power cars. Other researchers are looking at how we might, one day, control human emotions by sending ‘biological machines’ into our brains.