What Happens When A Drug Works For Only One Person?
By all rights, Gerald Batist’s patient should have died nine years ago. Her pancreatic cancer failed to flinch in the face of the standard arsenal — surgery, radiation, chemotherapy — and Batist, an oncologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, estimated that she had one year to live. With treatment options dwindling, he enrolled her in a clinical trial of a hot new class of drugs called farnesyltransferase inhibitors. Animal tests had suggested that the drugs had the potential to defeat some of the deadliest cancers, and pharmaceutical firms were racing to be the first to bring such compounds to market.
But the drugs flopped in clinical trials. Companies abandoned the inhibitors — one of the biggest heartbreaks in cancer research over the past decade. For Batist’s patient, however, the drugs were anything but disappointing. Her tumours were resolved; now, a decade later, she remains cancer free. And Batist hopes that he may soon find out why.
The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, is recruiting stories, tissue samples and clinical data from up to 200 such ‘exceptional responders’ to learn why these patients benefited from drugs that failed most others. The effort is part of a larger push among cancer researchers to focus on single-subject, or ‘n-of-1’, studies that could offer new insights into the disease. The tactic initially met with resistance, says Charles Sawyers, a cancer researcher at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and an advocate of the approach. “It’s in vogue to talk about your n-of-1 study now,” he says. “But when I was in medical school this was called an anecdote — and it was a bad word.”
Full Story: Nature: Cancer researchers revisit ‘failed’ clinical trials
(via Boing Boing)
Modified MDMA (Ecstasy) May Be the Key to Curing Certain Types of Cancer
Ecstasy is known to kill some cancer cells, but scientists have increased its effectiveness 100-fold, they said in Investigational New Drugs journal.
Their early study showed all leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma cells could be killed in a test tube, but any treatment would be a decade away. [...]
In 2006, a research team at the University of Birmingham showed that ecstasy and anti-depressants such as Prozac had the potential to stop cancers growing.
The problem was that it needed doses so high they would have been fatal if given to people.
The researchers, in collaboration with the University of Western Australia, have chemically re-engineered ecstasy by taking some atoms away and putting new ones in their place.
BBC: Modified ecstasy ‘attacks blood cancers’
Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Tests May Wildly Overestimate Your Risk of Disease
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests give inaccurate predictions of disease risks and many European geneticists believe that some of them should be banned, the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics heard May 31.
Although the predictive ability of the DTC tests in the study was moderate for all diseases, both companies assigned an increased risk to a substantial part of the group. Yet the risk of disease in this group was often not substantially higher than the risk in the rest of the population studied. For AMD, the disease with the highest predictive ability, both companies assumed that the risk in the population was around 8%. Of all subjects designated as having an increased risk, 16% using the 23andMe risk estimations and 19% using deCODEme’s estimations would develop AMD, compared to the 4% found in the rest of the population studied. [...]
“deCODEme predicted risks higher than 100% for five out of the eight diseases,” Ms Kalf will say. “This in itself should be enough to raise considerable concern about the accuracy of these predictions — a risk can never be higher than 100%. In the case of AMD one in every 200 individuals in the group would have received a predicted risk of higher than 100%, suggesting that they would definitely develop the disease.”
Science Daily: Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Tests Neither Accurate in Their Predictions nor Beneficial to Individuals, Study Suggests
(via Edward Borasky)
Oh well, at least we’ll always have palm reading.
Scientists Can Now Rewrite DNA
MIT and Harvard researchers have developed technologies that could be used to rewrite the genetic code of a living cell, allowing them to make large-scale edits to the cell’s genome. Such technology could enable scientists to design cells that build proteins not found in nature, or engineer bacteria that are resistant to any type of viral infection.
The technology, described in the July 15 issue of Science, can overwrite specific DNA sequences throughout the genome, similar to the find-and-replace function in word-processing programs. Using this approach, the researchers can make hundreds of targeted edits to the genome of E. coli, apparently without disrupting the cells’ function.
MIT News: Scientists unveil tools for rewriting the code of life
(via Richard Yonck)
Bioart Project Seeks to Extract, Copy and Spread William S. Burroughs’s DNA – From a Preserved Turd
Here’s a bizarre bioart project. It actually sounds like something out of one of his novels:
1: Take a glob of William S. Burroughs’ preserved shit
2: Isolate the DNA with a kit
3: Make, many, many copies of the DNA we extract
4: Soak the DNA in gold dust
5: Load the DNA dust into a genegun (a modified air pistol)
6: Fire the DNA dust into a mix of fresh sperm, blood and shit
7: Call the genetically modified mix of blood, shit, and sperm a living bioart, a new media paint, a living cut-up literary device and/or a mutant sculpture.
HP+: Mutate or Die: a W.S. Burroughs Biotechnological Bestiary
(via Boing Boing)
Can You Imagine a Future Where London Police Bees Conduct Genetic Surveillance?
Designer Thomas Thwaites (who built this DIY toaster with iron ore gathered by hand) has created a project called “Policing Genes,” envisioning a future in which bees are used for genetic surveillance:
Other than a few obvious illegal narcotic plants, it hadn’t occurred to me that the genetics of what is growing in a person’s garden could become a police matter. Even more intriguing/trippy was the possibility of the police using bees for surveillance and for forensically identifying the pollen that the bees came back with. If that pollen is genetically outside of the law, the police could use the bees to track a person right to the house he or she lives in. [...]
Thomas Thwaites, however, has put a great deal of thought into genetic engineering and the policing of those genes. Thwaites pointed out that the ability to insert genes into plants is now DIY technology available to both the amateur and the criminal. “Policing Genes speculates that, like other technologies, genetic engineering will also find a use outside the law, with innocent-looking garden plants being modified to produce narcotics and unlicensed pharmaceuticals.”
Computerworld: Police bees for surveillance, tracking and buzzzsting biohackers?
We Make Money Not Art’s interview with Thwaites
Biopunk: the biotechnology black market
Hong Kong Group Building Encrypted Bacterial Data Storage
Data encryption and storage has always been an important branch of research in computer engineering. In our project, we explored the possibility of harnessing a biological system as an alternative solution for data en/decryption and storage. Using bacteria as the information storage device is not new. However the practicability of previous research is being doubt due to the limited size of information available to be inserted into the bacteria.
We recognized the current barricades in developing a truly useful system and we forecasted the indispensable modules that one would be anticipating when putting fantasy into reality. This year, we have proposed a model that is a true, massively parallel bacterial data storage system.
In addition we have created an encryption module with the R64 Shufflon-Specific Recombinase to further secure the information. Together with the data proof-read/correction and random access modules developed, our expectation is high – we believe this could be an industrial standard in handling large scale data storage in living cells.
Team:Hong Kong-CUHK – 2010.igem.org
Ultra cheap nanochips could be built from DNA
In his latest set of experiments, Chris Dwyer, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, demonstrated that by simply mixing customized snippets of DNA and other molecules, he could create literally billions of identical, tiny, waffle-looking structures.
Dwyer has shown that these nanostructures will efficiently self-assemble, and when different light-sensitive molecules are added to the mixture, the waffles exhibit unique and “programmable” properties that can be readily tapped. Using light to excite these molecules, known as chromophores, he can create simple logic gates, or switches.
PhysOrg: DNA could be backbone of next generation logic chips
Tattooing Patients With UV Ink Could Protect Pacemakers From Hackers
More and more implantable devices, like pacemakers or defibrillators, are turning to wireless signals as a means to communicate with external devices, but in doing so they open themselves to security breaches. Several solutions are in the works that tackle this problem by upping device defenses, but by piling on security measures, yet another risk emerges: that at a critical time an authorized physician might not be able to access the device.
So Microsoft Research proposes putting a new technological spin on an old, time-tested security protocol: protect every device with a password, then tattoo the password right onto the patient in invisible UV ink.
Popular Science: Tattooing Patients With UV Ink Could Protect Pacemakers From Hackers
Human Bones Successfully Grown In The Lab
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, has solved one of many problems on the way to successful bone implants: how to grow new bones in the anatomical shape of the original.
Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic and her research team have created and nourished two small bones from scratch in their laboratory. The new bones, part of a joint at the back of the jaw, were created with human stem cells. The shape is based on digital images of undamaged bones.
Tissue-engineered bones have many implications, according to a leading figure in the field, Dr. Charles A. Vacanti, director of the laboratories for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He has no connection to the Columbia work. “If your imaging equipment has sufficient high resolution, you can construct virtually any intricate shape you want — for example, the middle ear bone, creating an exact duplicate,” he said. “It’s a splendid example of tissue engineering at its best.”
New York Times: Replacement Bones, Grown to Order in the Lab