Tag: insulin

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Die Welt this week reports on plans by BayerCropScience, a division of Bayer AG, to develop new, heat- and drought-resistant wheat varieties. To accomplish this goal, BayerCropScience will refrain from introducing novel genes into the wheat genome for fear of protests in Europe. However, the company is cooperating, among others, with Israel-based Evogene to also develop genetically engineered crops for other markets.

Michael Simm in Focus features the latest accomplishments of synthetic biology in which researchers control artificially introduced networks of genes in cells and tissue. As an example, scientists from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basle, Switzerland, have inserted genes for hormone production into cells. By adding genetic control elements that can be switched on by irradiation with blue light these genes can be controlled from outside. As an example, the researchers in vitro introduced a genetic network for the production of insulin into human tissue which subsequently was micro encapsulated and transplanted to the skin of diabetic mice. After a meal, blue light is applied to switch on insulin production in order to normalize blood sugar levels. The model works well so that the researchers are thinking about clinical trials. Already, the use of light to switch on genes has led to the new scientific discipline of optogenetics which is exploring light-controlled genes and cells to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s or epilepsy. D-BSSE researchers also developed cells carrying a network of genes that is able to normalize uric acid levels in gout patients.

Siegfried Hofmann in Handelsblatt is introducing various therapeutic approaches of biopharmaceutical companies in a series entitled “future lab 2020.” Topics range from personalized medicine to stem cell therapies to novel immune therapies.

David Shaywitz in Forbes provides a thoughtful article explaining why Silicon Valley failed to make a dent in the healthcare space: “most tech-savvy entrepreneurs lack an in-depth appreciation for the complexity of medicine in general, and the nuances of the doctor-patient dynamic they are confidently trying to influence or replace.” He goes on to say that management of high-tech companies needs to understand the science: “When a science-driven business is led by leaders who don’t even know what they don’t know, and who actually believe that the crisp powerpoint slides that bubble up for their review actually and adequately represent the science involved – then you risk making some very ignorant decisions.”

The New Scientist this week features a story on how cancer cells can be poisoned with  2-deoxyglucose. The sugar dislodges a protein protecting a suicide switch which subsequently can be triggered by ABT-263 navitoclax, a molecule under development at Genentech. The magazine also reports on a call for proposals by DARPA, the US military’s research arm, to develop small interfering RNA (siRNA) to fight bacteria. DARPA is seeking ideas for adaptable nanoparticles that can be reprogrammed “on the fly” by loading up specific siRNA to deal with outbreaks among troops.

And finally, the Economist features people pioneering the backyard generation of fuel to power their diesel cars. The recipe starts with collecting used kitchen oil, which after some filtering is broken down into esters and glycerol by adding sodium hydroxide and methanol and heating. Glycerol is drained away and the remainder is washed with water to get rid of impurities. Removing residual water and moisture is done with an aquarium bubbler. The resulting biodiesel, the article states, can be used in diesel cars without any modification. Already, British company Oilybits is selling devices to produce 120 liter batches of biodiesel in a more professional way.

Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Matthew Herper of Forbes this week takes up the issue whether a DNA sequencer can get FDA approval and quotes Jay Flatley, president and CEO of Illumina as saying the company is in talks with FDA to get regulatory clearance to use its technology for medical diagnostics. He also writes about the late Adriana Jenkins, who worked for Celgene and Third Rock Ventures, among others, and died of breast cancer earlier this month. Having been treated as one of the first patients with one of the first personalized drugs, Herceptin, which gave her a decade of life, she calls for a new law that would give drug companies extended monopolies for developing personalized medicines. Her  own last article explaining her plea for supporting personalized medicine by a legislation similar to the Orphan Drug Act  is featured in Forbes, too.

Also in Forbes, Robert Langreth explains  why Novo Nordisk decided to abandon development of diabetes pills and to ramp up insulin production instead – a move highly successful so far.

Dealing with green energy, the Economist reports on the latest efforts to develop artificial leaves for the synthesis of carbohydrate fuels directly from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. The article features efforts by the Joint Centre for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) in California, Massachusetts-based Sun Catalyx and a group at Massey University in New Zealand lead by Wayne Campbell.
For those of us who already are short-sighted and need reading glasses on top, the New York Times has good news about a new gadget that already hit the US market. Anne Eisenberg reports that with the new device the days of bifocal spectacles may be over soon. The new emPower electronic spectacles have liquid crystals inserted at the bottom of the lens which change refraction by simply touching the frame. As a result, reading power can be easily switched on and off.

Hannah Waters in The Scientist features a new pathway that may be used to develop novel antibiotics, e.g. to combat Staphylococcus infections.  The trick is done by blocking RNA degradation via a small molecule inhibiting the enzyme RNAse P found in gram-positive bacteria. This leads to accumulation of RNA transcripts and their encoded proteins so that the bugs die from chaos.

In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Jörg Altwegg reports about a baby that opened up a fierce ethical debate in France. The boy was conceived after preimplantation diagnosis made clear that he not only did not carry beta thalassemia but that he also was suited as a blood donor for his older sister suffering from the disease. Another ethical debate around human genetics is taken up by  Volker Stollorz in a Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) article not yet online. In the US, researchers have developed a universal gene test able to uncover the genes for hundreds of severe, rare genetic diseases. The test is going to be used for family planning, and couples at risk of conceiving a child with one of those conditions can opt to perform preimplantation diagnosis. However, while some human geneticists warn that the results might overstrain the expertise of human genetic councelors, others already are crazy about using such tests to eliminate all recessive alleles for genetic diseases from the human gene pool.

Finally, Alison McCook in The Scientist claims researchers are punks, because just like in punk music, as they are typified “by a passionate adherence to individualism, creativity and freedom of expression with no regard to established opinions.” To get a taste, she recommends listening to Minor Threat and Nomeansno for a start.