What we’ve been reading: Week of January 26, 2015

What we are reading 4Vector’s picks of recent pediatric healthcare, science and innovation news.

U.S. proposes effort to analyze DNA from 1 million people (Reuters)
President Obama provided more detail last week on his Precision Medicine Initiative, which would allocate $215 million toward developing treatments tailored to patients’ genetic makeup, including $70 million for cancer research. The initiative is being hailed as a shot in the arm for research and innovation (this cancer example is but one of many), but skeptics question whether precision medicine will live up to its touted potential, citing the shortcomings of genomics in determining disease risk or in reversing diseases, even when genetic variants have been well studied.

Brain cells behind overeating (The Scientist)
Two separate papers in Cell last week define specific groups of neurons in the hypothalamus that lead mice to feed more frequently. They seem to be tied into reward circuits, rather than circuits that would spur eating for survival. These cells, and the optogenetics technologies that zero in on them, could help fuel obesity research—and perhaps help discover treatments for perplexing disorders like Prader-Willi syndrome.

The future of wearables isn’t a connected watch (Wired)
Beyond the “watch that does everything,” this piece envisions a much wider range of task-specific devices that we put on and take off as needed: “Think of activity-specific clothing, like Hexoskin, that monitors workouts. Or medical devices like Vital Connect, a patch that tracks your vital signs and lets doctors access the data. Or earbuds that aren’t quite hearing aids but which you can wear when there’s too much background noise.”

30 underrated digital health startups to watch in 2015 (Tech Cheat Sheet)
This list breaks companies into categories: research and data-collecting platforms; apps to locate a doctor, provide consultations or detect disease early; apps to improve treatments and rehabilitation; technologies to help patients manage chronic illness; and products aimed at app developers themselves. With so many options, one wonders what the landscape will look like three years from now.

Silk implants fight bacterial infections, then vanish (IEEE Spectrum)
Forget silicon: electronic implants could be made of silk and magnesium and harmlessly dissolve once they’ve done their job. Here, bioengineers loaded a silken band-aid like patch with antibiotics, surgically implanted it in mice with Staph. aureus infection, activated it wirelessly, and got it to release the drugs. A second version simply heated up, killing the bacteria.

Genetically engineered mosquitoes could be released in Florida, pending FDA approval (MedCity News)
Instead of seeking a better malaria drug, this approach would release genetically modified male mosquitos (which don’t bite) into the wild. When the males mate with females, they would pass on a Trojan-horse type mutation that kills the resulting larvae. The FDA is investigating the implications before allowing an experiment on U.S. soil.

How transposons shaped pregnancy (The Scientist)
Pregnancy, it turns out, is an evolutionary work in progress, and transposons–pieces of DNA that copy and reinsert themselves into the genome–are the stars. A paper in Cell Reports last week, studying a variety of animal species, posits that over the eons, thousands of transposons have tweaked the expression of pregnancy-related genes. In mammals, for example, genes involved in immune tolerance and responding to hormones became more active, while those involved in the biochemistry of eggshell formation gradually went silent.

Not your average technician (Nature)
Celebrating the unsung heroes of science and medicine: an Australian glass-blower taking custom requests from labs; a snake milker in Kentucky who provides venom specimens; a squid collector who’s indispensable to neuroscientists; and a UK “data mechanic” who keeps computers humming for the European Bioinformatics Institute. Worth a read.

To see what we’re reading in real time, follow us on Twitter.