Updates on the first human trial involving CRISPR, gene activity after death, more delays in Zika funding, and transmissible cancers in mollusks.
(MIT Technology Review, 6/20/2016, Antonio Regalado)
Napster co-founder and Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker is giving US$250 million to help fund the first clinical trial of the gene-editing tool known as CRISPR. The trial, which is still awaiting approval by the US National Institutes of Health (see update below), is testing a T-cell based immunotherapy developed primarily for leukemia but also being looked at in other cancers. The CRISPR tool is being used to modify the gene for a protein called PD-1 that sits on the surface of T cells and which tumors have learned to exploit. Parker’s charitable foundation is funding the study. The foundation is unusual in that it also plans to control patents on the research it funds and even bring treatments to market.
(Science, 6/22, 2016, Jocelyn Kaiser)
The first human trial that would utilize the gene-editing tool CRISPR (see article above) passed a key safety hurdle this week. The US National Institutes of Health’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC), which traditional vets the safety and ethics of gene therapy trials funded by the US government, approved the cancer immunotherapy trial this week. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, which are leading the study, must now seek approval from their own institutions’ ethics boards and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in order to proceed with the trial.
(Science, 6/22/2016, Mitch Leslie)
A University of Washington study shows that that at least one aspect of life continues: Genes remain turned on days after animals die. An analysis of blood and liver tissue from human cadavers found that hundreds of genes ramped up in mice and zebrafish within 24 hours after death and while most tapered off some remained active four days after death. The researchers posted their results on the preprint server bioRxiv and is undergoing peer review at a journal. Researchers may be able to parlay this postmortem activity into better ways of preserving donated organs for transplantation and more accurate methods of determining when murder victims were killed.
(New York Times, 6/23/2016, David Herszenhorn)
Emergency financing to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus appeared likely to be delayed until after Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess, as Democrats on Wednesday sharply criticized a new Republican proposal to provide $1.1 billion, but with $750 million redirected from other federal programs. It was not immediately clear how congressional leaders might resolve the impasse, or when the federal money for Zika would ultimately be approved.
(The Scientist, 6/22/2016, Anna Azvolinsky)
Researchers from Columbia University in New York and their colleagues uncovered the first evidence of a contagious cancer among mollusks in a population of soft shell clams in 2015. Now, collaborating with biologists in Spain and Canada, the same team has uncovered three additional bivalve species with distinct transmissible cancers, including a malady that appears to have originated in a different species. The team’s latest results appeared this week in Nature.
—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery