A new global scourge, Obama’s moonshot at cancer and a proposal to use CRISPR in human embryo research. This week in Abstract Science.
(Scientific American, 1/11/16, Kate Kelland)
While the Ebola outbreak in West Africa appears about over, a little-known bacterial disease called meliodosis may be killing as many people worldwide as measles, prompting an alert by scientists in the journal Nature Microbiology. The study, led by a researcher from Mahidol University in Thailand, said meliodosis is resistant to antibiotics and the pathogen that causes it, Burkholderia pseudomallei, requires a good microbiology laboratory to culture and identify it. Meliodosis should be given a higher priority by international health organizations and policy makers, the researchers said. The pathogen is commonly found in soils in Southeast Asia and Australia, but can be spread via imports of infected animals.
(Nature, 1/13/16, Heidi Ledford & Jeff Tollefson)
In 1961, shortly after taking office, US President John F. Kennedy, in an address to Congress, laid out an ambitious space exploration program that included weather satellites, a nuclear rocket and the pièce de résistance, a moonwalk that astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did, in fact, deliver eight years later. With that accomplishment in mind, US President Barack Obama, during his final State of the Union address this week, laid out his own moonshot: curing cancer. Details are a bit fuzzy, and it’s unclear how much influence the outgoing president will ultimately have on this global killer, but with the growth of cancer immunotherapies and the growing influence of personalized medicine the time seems right to push for more government support. US Vice President Joseph Biden, whose son, Beau died of brain cancer last year, will lead the effort.
(Science, 1/13/16, Erik Stokstad)
Could CRISPR’s next chapter involve human embryos? A UK regulatory committee is evaluating a proposal from a fertility researcher at the Francis Crick Institute in London to knock out development genes in day-old embryos. The scientist, Kathy Niakan studies how the single cell of a fertilized egg turns into a blastocyst, the approximately 5-day-old structure that subsequently implants in the mother’s uterus. She uses human embryos, created in fertility clinics, that are left over from in vitro fertilization attempts and donated for research. She believes the gene editing tool CRISPR will help to reduce the number of embryos required for her research.
—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery