Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Hearts can heal themselves, at least in newborn mice, reports  Sindya N. Bhando in the New York Times. She features a research group that is now trying to identify the genes regulating the process. If the researchers could restart the genetic network in adult animals, science would be a step closer to a better heart disease therapy.

Matthew Herper in Forbes deals with the success of Vertex’s cystic fibrosis drug VX-770 in its 161 patients STRIVE clinical trial. While it works only in a small subset of patients carrying a particular mutation, in this group it improved the patients’ ability to exhale by about 17%. Robert Langreth, also in Forbes, introduces biotech investor Randal J. Kirk who made more than $2 billion from his biotech investments, among others, by selling New River Pharmaceuticals to Shire. Right now, he is about selling his anti-depressant play Clinical Data to Forest Laboratories. Kirk prefers to buy unknown companies at a very low price and stays until a drug gets to the market. His latest interest focuses on synthetic biology, and he runs and finances the 180-person company  Intrexon, founded in 1998 by biologist Thomas Reed. Intrexon claims to command a library of 70,000 DNA pieces that can be used to control gene expression. This enables it, as an example, to induce and regulate in vivo protein expression through dosing of a small molecule activator. Applications range from medical to agricultural and industrial biotechnology and protein production.

Kate McAlpine in New Scientist explains how a technology that manipulates light so that it can deliver sharp images through opaque materials might someday be useful to treat cancer. Like opaque material, human skin scatters light in both time and space, however with the new technology it may be possible to exactly target and destroy cancer cells by laser light without harming surrounding healthy tissue.

Joachim Müller-Jung in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reports on a new technology to improve hygiene in clinics. Developed by the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics it generates cold plasma gas that is able to kill bacteria even in skin pores within three to five seconds. The technology already is being used in food processing and for treating chronic wounds. The device is about the size of a hand dryer already used in public lavatories. A license to the technology is still available.

Susanne Kutter in Die Wirtschaftswoche reports on a new test to diagnose a myocardial infarction on the spot. It is based on the enzyme glycogen-phosphorylase BB which is released into the blood stream as soon as the heart muscle is suffering from oxygen deprivation. A common competitor test on the market is based on a molecule released only after disintegration of heart muscles cells and tissue, i.e. hours after the incident. The Diacordon test is marketed by Diagenics.