Can a Toxic Liver Drug Boost Gene Therapy?

(Science, 6/8/2016, Jocelyn Kaiser)

Scientists have come up with a novel way to make gene-modified cells in the liver take over much of that organ: They cripple the unmodified cells with a liver-damaging drug. This seemingly risky strategy, which relies on the liver’s exceptional regenerative skills, has passed its first test in mice. If equally successful in people, it could be a boon for treating many inherited diseases involving the liver. The study, led by Sean Nygaard at the Oregon Health & Science University, appeared this week in Science Translational Medicine

US Academies’ Cautious Nod to Gene Drive

(Science, 6/8/2016, Elizabeth Pennisi)

A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee urged researchers, funding organizations, and regulatory agencies to come up with ways to deal with the societal and regulatory issues surrounding gene drive, a technology being developed to eradicate or replace populations of pests and vectors, such as the mosquitoes that spread Zika and dengue virus. Gene drive is a natural phenomenon whereby a certain version of a gene is passed on preferentially to the next generation and thus can quickly spread throughout a sexually reproducing population. While a promising technology, neither the science nor the current regulatory system is adequate to address the risks and requirements of gene drive–altered organisms, the committee said in its report.

Autism and Touch

(Science, 6/9/2016, Teal Burrell)

It’s already known that a majority of people on the autism spectrum are often hypersensitive to light touch, and the newest version of psychiatry’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, even includes the sensory abnormalities of autism as core features of the disease. Now a mouse study led by Harvard neuroscientist Lauren Orefice, suggests that the social impairments and high anxiety seen in people with autism or related disorders may be partly due to a disruption in the nerves of the skin that sense touch. The findings appear this week in Cell.

US Senate OKs Update of Chemical Law  

(New York Times, 6/ 7/2016, Coral Davenport)

An overhaul of the nation’s 40-year-old law governing the use of toxic chemicals in homes and businesses was approved this week by the US Senate, sending the bill to President Obama for his expected signature. The measure would update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, requiring new testing and regulation of thousands of chemicals used in everyday products as varied as laundry detergents and car seats. However, some public health and environmental advocates have criticized the legislation, saying that while it slightly strengthens the existing law, the bill’s authors ceded too much to chemical companies.

—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery