Yearly Archives: 2013

FDA oversteps on genetic testing

Here’s a well-done article by my friend Berin Szoka of the TechFreedom think tank.

An excerpt:

When I got tested in 2011, I was the first to ask my doctor’s office about genetic results. Exasperated with the transition to electronic medical records, they weren’t eager to deal with yet another change. But the more patients ask, the more doctors are listening. That’s what the Internet has done in countless industries: Force old dogs to learn new tricks. It’s never pretty, but the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

FDA tells 23andMe to stop sales of genetic tests

The test has been on the market since 2007, and now the FDA says something? Allowing consumers to get direct access to their own data doesn’t seem like much of a safety issue. If 23andMe’s tests are not as accurate as others, let that be known. Indeed, it is good that the FDA has pointed out that the company has not proven its tech according to FDA standards. BUT, that’s not exactly cause to shut down the service either. Getting to the health revolution that we all know is right around the corner will also require dealing with the old regulatory structures that were set up before the information age. That makes it a bit of a tough road. The FDA needs to be updated for the times. Here’s the 23andMe story.

Bio-engineer predicts a bio-printed heart in a decade

From Wired UK:

“America put a man on the Moon in less than a decade. I said a full decade to provide some wiggle room,” Stuart K Williams told

Williams is heading up the hugely ambitious project as executive and scientific director of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at the University of Louisville. Throughout his prestigious career spanning four decades he has focused on researching surgical devices and bioengineering, and the idea for printing the heart whole from scratch was inspired by the work of one of the pioneers in both these fields — Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh might be best known for flying solo across the Atlantic and for the Crime of the Century (when his infant son was kidnapped and murdered) but he also created a glass perfusion pump with Alexia Carrel that would keep the human heart alive outside the body, paving the way for heart surgery. The pair also discussed regenerative medicine in their book The Culture of Organs.

Blood vessel cells can repair organs, say Weill Cornell scientists

Another great bioengineering study. This one showing the possibility of repairing organs simply by injecting them with engineered endothelial cells.

Here’s the press release:

Damaged or diseased organs may someday be healed with an injection of blood vessel cells, eliminating the need for donated organs and transplants, according to scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College.

In studies appearing in recent issues of Stem Cell Journal and Developmental Cell, the researchers show that endothelial cells — the cells that make up the structure of blood vessels — are powerful biological machines that drive regeneration in organ tissues by releasing beneficial, organ-specific molecules.

They discovered this by decoding the entirety of active genes in endothelial cells, revealing hundreds of known genes that had never been associated with these cells. The researchers also found that organs dictate the structure and function of their own blood vessels, including the repair molecules they secrete.

Together, the studies show that endothelial cells and the organs they are transplanted into work together to repair damage and restore function, says the study’s lead investigator, Shahin Rafii, M.D., a professor of genetic medicine and co-director of the medical college’s Ansary Stem Cell Institute and Tri-SCI Stem Center. When an organ is injured, its blood vessels may not be able to repair the damage on their own because they may themselves be harmed or inflamed, says Dr. Rafii, who is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

A step on the way to therapeutic brain cells?

Will a person’s own brain cells be used to repair their brain one day? Maybe. Here’s an article that discusses the potential first steps — taking brain cells from a living person and growing more of them.

From the Third Age:

Researchers at the University of Western Ontario have found that cells from brain biopsies can be used to grow large numbers of patient’s own brain cells. These new therapeutic cells, when reintegrated in to the patient’s brain, express a broad array of natural and potent protective agents providing preservation and protection against injury, toxins, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. The study was published in The FASEB Journal.

Here’s the study.

Google’s plan to extend our life span will change everything

Today’s news that Google is launching a new company (Calico) to fight aging is epic. Epic. Fighting aging used to be the realm of biologists and doctors, but now that the engineers are getting involved, progress will likely move much faster. This is very good news for those of us who want to see health spans extended for everyone.

Here’s Time’s breaking story.

Here’s my op-ed about it.

Here’s Aubrey de Grey’s op-ed.

DNA Double Take

A genome is a genome is a genome? Not always. Turns out that many people can have more than one genome in their body at once. Now that sequencing has become cheaper to do, all sorts of interesting data like this is popping up. From the NYT:

Scientists are discovering that — to a surprising degree — we contain genetic multitudes. Not long ago, researchers had thought it was rare for the cells in a single healthy person to differ genetically in a significant way. But scientists are finding that it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes. Some people, for example, have groups of cells with mutations that are not found in the rest of the body. Some have genomes that came from other people.

Researchers Grow Human ‘Mini Brains’

This advance by Austria’s Dr. Knoblich has big implications for studying brain disease. If researchers can study human brain cells in the lab instead of using animal models, the door will open to better, more effective, therapies. From the WSJ:

Researchers have used stem cells to grow pea-sized structures that resemble the developing human brain, an advance that offers a way to model brain maladies that are otherwise hard to study.

The human brain is one of the most elaborate natural structures known to science. These new lab-grown “mini brains” are imperfect, and a long way off from matching the real thing.

The advance is expected to allow researchers to investigate human brain disease in a lab—something that currently is a big challenge. Brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s typically are studied in rats, mice and other animals, but these are inadequate proxies mainly because the human brain is much more complex.

By contrast, the new approach should enable scientists to study neurological disorders by examining brain tissue derived from actual patients.

Genomics X Prize canceled

This was one piece of news I wasn’t quite expecting. According to Peter Diamandis, the Chairman of the X-prize foundation, the incentive prize was cancelled because innovation outpaced the prize.

He says in his column explaining the move:

At XPRIZE, failure is not a bad thing; it is part of the process. We expect most of our competing teams to fail as they attempt to achieve audacious goals. And sometimes, if we are doing our job right, an XPRIZE will fail as well. When we launch an XPRIZE, we do so with the understanding that it may not achieve its objectives – either because we made the finish line too difficult, or sometimes because we did not make it hard enough.

He goes on to say that:

What we realized is that genome sequencing technology is plummeting in cost and increasing in speed independent of our competition. Today, companies can do this for less than $5,000 per genome, in a few days or less – and are moving quickly towards the goals we set for the prize. For this reason, we have decided to cancel an XPRIZE for the first time ever.

Pew Foundation survey on longevity

Here’s an interesting survey by the Pew Foundation.

Asked whether they, personally, would choose to undergo medical treatments to slow the aging process and live to be 120 or more, a majority of U.S. adults (56%) say “no.” But roughly two-thirds (68%) think that most other people would. And by similarly large margins, they expect that radically longer life spans would strain the country’s natural resources and be available only to the wealthy.

Of course, most people are probably not considering that technologies that can increase healthspan (rather than longevity per se) will also help us better manage our resources and create wealth.

Longevity interview with Aubrey de Grey

This Newsweek article contains an excellent conversation about longevity — how we might live longer and what that might mean.

Here’s one of my favorite parts of the NW interview with Aubrey de Grey:

NW: But would we really want to live forever?

De Grey: The reason why we want to live a long time is not to live a long time. It’s that we want to not get Alzheimer’s. Do you want to get Alzheimer’s?

NW: Not particularly.

De Grey: All right. Do you think there’s some age at which you will want to get Alzheimer’s?

NW: Probably not.

De Grey: Exactly. It’s the same for cancer and other diseases. That’s why it’s so important for me to emphasize that any longevity benefits that we get out of this are just a side effect.