gene editing


Genomics in 2016: Nathan and Laura Name Their Top Stories

From new CRISPR trials in humans to mitochondrial transfer therapy, from the spinout by Illumina of two new genomics health companies to the complete and utter failure of Theranos, from the approval by the FDA of GM mosquitos to the FDA giving up on LDT regulation as a result of the election, the genomics headlines of 2016 didn’t fail to dazzle, deliver, and disappoint.

Hear which stories our regular commentators, Laura Hercher and Nathan Pearson, chose as their top and also most underreported of the year in today’s look back on 2016.

Hank Greely on “The End of Sex" and Other Stuff

Each year at this time we bring on a guest who is somewhat out of the way of our normal lineup, for example, a science fiction writer or a philosopher. Today Theral interviews a law professor who loves to philosophize and write about the impact of biotechnology on our lives now and in the near future. His newest book out this year, “The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction,” is another comprehensive and provocative example of what has made Stanford’s Hank Greely such an in-demand speaker both to scientist and non-scientist audiences alike.

“My prediction in the book is that in twenty to forty years, most people with good healthcare will conceive their children in a lab using stem cell derived eggs--and sometimes sperm—and then do whole genome sequencing preimplantation genetic diagnosis and pick the embryo they want,” says Hank at the outset of today’s extended interview.

Whereas sci-fi writers and the mainstream press often play into what Hank calls "our need for scary bedtime stories," he seeks to understand and elucidate the actual--and less dramatic--"muddling through" of new technologies into our lives.

In addition to discussing the book, we talk with Hank about his relationship to his colleague scientists at Stanford, what he thinks is the breakthrough technology of 2016, and the future of the FDA in the era of Trump.

September 2016 with Nathan and Laura

There were many headlines this past week heralding the first three parent baby to be born. But in fact, as our commentators point out in today’s look back on last month’s genomics news, three parent babies have been around for some time. So why are couples going to Mexico for mitochondrial transfer today? Why is it not legal in the U.S.?

Nathan points out that every one of our ancestors back ten generations ago gave us a hundred times more DNA than the mitochondrial donor might give to a three parent baby. Yes, the donor is a parent, he says, but she’s also just a distant cousin. "This shouldn’t freak anybody out.”

Laura doesn’t like the term “three parent babies” at all:

"It’s like in the early days when we went around, ‘oh is that a test tube baby?’ This is a human being, a kid on this planet—you can’t call this boy a ‘three parent baby’. He has two parents. They are the people raising him.”

Our second story involves regulation as well. This month the FDA approved Sarepta’s drug to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Here’s a new drug that could help a patient population desperately in need, and yet, most of the key opinion leaders in our industry are very disappointed with the FDA. Why? The answer comes down to whether the FDA should include more than "just the science” in their decisions.

August 2016 with Nathan and Laura

It’s the end of summer and end of another month. Joining us to discuss the genomics headlines of August are Laura Hercher and Nathan Pearson.

A recent study demonstrating that breast cancer patients with low genomic risk may not need chemotherapy is just what precision medicine is all about, isn’t it? Theral and Laura think the study is a big deal. Nathan’s not so sure.

Nathan is convinced though that Eurocentric studies have implicit racism. Laura agrees, saying the lack of racial diversity in biological databases is a major weakness that we must face head on.

Also, the FDA issued a report supporting Oxitec’s GM mosquitos for use in Florida. Laura is on board with the science but warns about smugness on the part of the scientific community. And George Church’s lab released a reengineered e. coli. Nathan imagines a new genomic language of 2 letter codons.

June 2016 with Nathan and Laura: GMO Labeling, Misspelling CRISPR, Sequenom Patent Loss, SmidgIon

Today's show was recorded July 1st, the first day that Vermont’s GMO labeling law went into effect. Just how big a win was this for the anti-GMO crowd, we ask our two commentators, Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher. They have a surprisingly optimistic take, suggesting that the GMO labeling could become a positive marketing tool.

Laura says the scale and ease of CRISPR vs the older technology of zinc fingers is like going from manuscript writing to the printing press. She insists, therefore, that the approval of the first ever CRISPR trial is a big deal even though we’ve already been doing the same cell replacement therapy with zinc fingers. She also points out that the new trial is funded by Sean Parker’s foundation which is moving along at a Silicon Valley pace.

"The tech industry has never had their moment where it killed someone to move too fast.”

Last week the Supreme Court killed off Sequenom’s patent for prenatal screening. After Laura and Theral hotly debate whether there should be such patents, Nathan suggests there is a right balance.

“It’s sort of like tuning a carburetor,” he says. "Patents can encourage people to invest, but they can also inhibit the development of technology.”

And lastly, DNA has a new mascot. It’s called the SmidgIon.

Mukherjee Mess-up, the Secret Harvard Meeting, and Success in Gene Therapy: May 2016 with Nathan and Laura

Today we look back on the genomics headlines over the past month (and a few days). To do this we’re joined by our regular commentators, Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher.

First we take on the science journalism kerfuffle of the year. When Pulitzer Prize winning author, Siddhartha Mukerjee, got epigenetics wrong in his New Yorker piece, scientists came out en masse to denounce it. Nathan reassures us that scientists aren’t afraid of writers.

Then on to that secret meeting at Harvard, HGP-Write. Laura gives it two thumbs down, saying it’s very normal for folks to be scared of the idea of synthesizing a human genome from scratch. So don’t make it more scary with a secret meeting and total lack of transparency.

Finally, we review some positive success stories for gene editing, specifically some gene therapies which have been approved or undergoing new trials.

April 2016 with Nathan and Laura: Big Money, More CRISPR Studies, Genomic Superheroes, and a Pot Chaser

This month we saw Big Money being infused into genomics and other life science research projects. There’s no question that science is big business, but do we see improved healthcare as a result?

Was the NIH too hasty in it’s ban on gene editing of human embryos?

Superheroes are lurking among us everywhere . . . or so the mainstream media would have us believe in their take on a new study from the Icahn School of Medicine.

Join us for our month-in-review program to hear what our regular commentators, Nathan Pearson and Laura Hercher, have to say about these questions. Stay tuned to the end for a pot chaser.

January 2016: Landergate, Grail, and Cancer Moonshot

“It being the month of Hypeuary, go hither through break in yonder wall called LanderGate, and thou wilt be on route to reach the Grail. Drink from this to find your Cure, and Death shall haunt you even more.” -Pithy Monton

Today we do something a little different. We’re joined by two commentators to look back over the past month’s headlines. Laura Hercher is a genetic counselor on the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. She’s also a regular contributor to the DNAExchange blog. Nathan Pearson is the Senior Director of Scientific Engagement and Public Outreach at the New York Genome Center.

Gene and Tonic: A 2016 Timeline

 

Journalists listen to others telling them what actually happened all year long.  But for this one week at the first of the year, we like to make up our own stuff.

January - The general mood at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco is one of relief.  

“Last month the FBI caught the lead mastermind behind the pharma industry’s high drug prices, and he’ll be brought to justice,” says the CEO of a pharma giant to a room full of investors and journalists at the historic St. Francis Hotel.  “Problem solved.”




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