When you go into Netflix to choose a movie or Amazon to buy a book, they’re ready with proactive suggestions for your next purchase, based on your past history. Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, would like to see something similar happening in medicine, where today, patients often find themselves repeating their medical history “again and again to every provider,” as Kohane recently told Harvard Medicine.
“Medicine as a whole is a knowledge-processing business that increasingly is taking large amounts of data and then, in theory, bringing that information to the point of care so that doctor and patient have a maximally informed visit,” says Kohane, chair of informatics at Boston Children’s Hospital and co-director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School.
One of the immune system’s basic jobs is to tell “self” from “non-self.” Our cells carry markers that the immune system uses to recognize them as being part of us. Cells that don’t carry those markers—like bacteria and other pathogens—therefore don’t belong.
Cancer cells, however, fall into a gray area. They’re non-self, yet they also bear markers that connote self-ness—one of the reasons the immune system has a hard time “seeing” and reacting to cancer.
Can we focus the immune system’s spotlight on cancer cells? The provisional answer is yes. Research on cancer immunotherapy—treatments that spur an immune response against cancer cells—has boomed in recent years. (The journal Science recognized cancer immunotherapy as its Breakthrough of the Year in 2013.)
Exome sequencing comes to the clinic (JAMA)
An approachable and thorough summary of the growing trend, describing the ways in which sequencing can help provide a diagnosis, the diagnostic yield (as high as 40 percent or more, depending on the population), how often the results have changed treatment decisions and the question of who pays.
Who Owns CRISPR? (The Scientist)
Excellent coverage of the escalating patent scramble for genome editing.
Can sequencing of newborns’ genomes provide useful medical information beyond what current newborn screening already provides? What results are appropriate to report back to parents? What are the potential risks and harms? How should DNA sequencing information be integrated into patient care?
Tools like CRISPR could give us the power to alter humanity’s genetic future. A group of senior American scientists and ethicists have called for a moratorium any attempts to create genetically engineered children using these technologies until there can be a robust debate.
Protection Without a Vaccine(The New York Times)
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have successfully used a type of gene therapy to make monkeys resistant to HIV. Could this be applied to other diseases for diseases for which there is no vaccine?
More about that doctor shortage, er, poor distribution of physicians(The Washington Post)
On Tuesday, the American Association of Medical Colleges released a report predicting a national physician shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025. But it may be that we have more of a distribution problem than a volume problem; we need more incentives for doctors to practice in medically underserved areas.
Internet of DNA (MIT Technology Review)
Emerging projects in Toronta, Santa Cruz and elsewhere are working toward being able compare DNA from sick people around the world via the Internet to identify hard-to-spot causes of disease—analogous to using the “Compare documents” function in Word.
Engineering the perfect baby (MIT Technology Review)
Since the birth of genetic engineering, people have worried about designer babies. Now, with gene editing and CRISPR, they might really be possible. Bioethicists and scientists weigh in on what “germ line engineering” would mean.
But like nature, business abhors a vacuum, and longs to fill it. Many companies and institutions have already jumped into the LDT ring, offering up genomic or pharmacologic services that they say would help guide patients’ and doctors’ treatment decisions and improve outcomes. Especially for patients with cancer.
How solid is the science behind these claims? And do vendors do a good job disclosing the strengths and weaknesses of personalized medicine? Those questions form the core of a study published this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Can you describe your work and its potential impact on patient care?
We modeled a form of heart-muscle disease in a dish. To do this, we converted skin cells from patients with a genetic heart muscle disease into stem cells, which we then instructed to turned into cardiomyocytes (heart-muscle cells) that have the genetic defect. We then worked closely with bioengineers to fashion the cells into contracting tissues, a “heart-on-a-chip.”
How was the idea that sparked this innovation born?
This innovation combined the fantastic, ground-breaking advances from many other scientists. It is always best to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Patrice Milos, PhD, is president and CEO of Claritas Genomics, a CLIA-certified genetic diagnostic testing company spun off from Boston Children’s Hospital in 2013.
A child is sick, showing symptoms her parents cannot identify. Something is seriously wrong, but what? The family turns to Boston Children’s Hospital for answers. Yet, even with today’s medical advances, a precise diagnosis often remains elusive.
The Human Genome Project has sparked innovation over the last 14 years, and as President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative asserts, today genome science offers patients new hope for answers.
Initially, cancer will be the major medical focus of this initiative, as cancer is a genetic disease—a genomic alternation of the patient’s normal tissue DNA.