News of the Week – Feb. 18, 2013
Antibiotics search to focus on sea bed
A group of researchers at Aberdeen University is scouring ocean trenches for undiscovered compounds that might help fight infection. Deep sea trenches, which can have a depth of close to seven miles, are relatively unexplored and few biological samples have ever been collected from them. The team will use fishing vessels to collect sediment from these trenches and then attempt to grow any microorganisms they find, in the hopes that the extreme, isolating conditions of a trench ecosystem has evolved unique antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has become a major health concern, with few new antibiotics in the drug development pipeline due to the unprofitability of a medicine that most people only use for a few weeks at a time.
Genomic responses in mouse models poorly mimic human inﬂammatory diseases
A recent study reports that using mice to study three human diseases – sepsis, burns and trauma – is inaccurate and has led to ill-informed patient care. The paper, which the authors said was rejected from both Science and Nature before eventually being accepted by PNAS, draws on data from hundreds of patients that suffered severe burns, sepsis or trauma by examining the gene expression patterns in their immune cells. When they compared what they found in humans to what had been done in mice, they found that gene expression in response to the diseases was completely different in the two species. The researchers conclude that the failure of many drugs for treating sepsis is due to drug development based on mouse models, when humans respond completely differently to the same affliction.
FDA extends period of public comment on transgenic salmon
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to extend the comment period for AquaBounty Technologies’ application for AquAdvantage Salmon. The decision to extend the comment period for 60 days, to April 26, was due to the FDA receiving 30,000 comments on the transgenic fish, many coming in days before the end of the original period on February 25th. AquAdvantage Salmon are genetically engineered to reach market size faster than typical farmed Atlantic salmon. Approval of the fish is still several steps away, as the documents the FDA released for public comment, drafts of Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), are the preliminary evaluations required for eventual approval.
Japanese stem cell clinical trial receives regulatory green light
The Kobe-based Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation has approved a small clinical trial of an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based treatment for age-related macular degeneration. The study will involve only 6 participants and is the first study to use iPSC as a source of stem cells, which can go on and differentiate into any tissue of the body. The Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka, at Kyoto University, won the Nobel prize last year for his 2006 pioneering work generating stem cells from skin tissue, as opposed to using human embryos as the source material for the precious cells. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare will have to give the final approval on the study by the end of next month.
High schoolers develop “flying vaccines”
A 16-year old New Jersey magnet high school student leads a virtual biotech company called Provita Pharmaceuticals. Provita is a school project started in 2008 as an opportunity for students interested in research and marketing to gain real-world experience. The “company” seeks to develop a “flying syringe” in the form of genetically engineered mosquitoes that produce and deliver, via saliva, a vaccine for West Nile Virus. The students will soon be meeting with the Public Health Research Institute in New Jersey to discuss their flying vaccine project.
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