Life science stories you may have missed – October, 2021

Life science stories you may have missed – October, 2021

Meet the Scientists Behind mRNA Vaccines

Drs. Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman met photocopying journal articles and soon began working together to better understand mRNA. Together, they discovered a breakthrough: how to make mRNA non-inflammatory to enable development of cutting-edge mRNA-based vaccines. In a video from Penn Medicine, they explain how the technology is now being used to develop everything from a gene therapy for sickle cell anemia to vaccines for peanut allergies.

Watch the Penn Medicine video.

A New Approach to Understanding Cancer: Protein Mapping

After more than a decade of research, scientists from the Cancer Cell Map Initiative have published a series of papers outlining a new approach to map protein networks underlying different types of cancer. The technique holds promise to help understand what is driving cancer and identify new therapeutic targets. “Looking at cancer at the protein level could help organize the mess of genetic data into a simpler understanding of the pathways that are driving disease,” Andrew Joseph writes in a recent article for STAT.

Read the full article in STAT.

Antiviral Pills for COVID-19 Now in Clinical Trials

“Oral antivirals have the potential to not only curtail the duration of one’s COVID-19 syndromes, but also have the potential to limit transmission to people in your household if you’re sick,” Timothy Sheahan, a virologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told NBC News. Unlike remdesivir, the only antiviral currently approved to treat COVID, the drugs now in clinical trials can be packaged as pills.

Read the full NBC News article.

Life science stories you may have missed – October, 2021

Life science stories you may have missed – April 2021

When vaccines don’t work

Blood cancer survivors. Organ transplant recipients. Cancer patients on certain drugs. Patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. People over 80. These are all populations that may not mount an immune response to COVID-19 after being vaccinated. According to The New York Times, numerous studies show that vaccines may be less effective in people who are immunocompromised. Some clinicians suggest routinely measuring antibody response in people who have not produced protective antibodies and may be candidates for monoclonal antibodies treatment or a third vaccine dose.

Read the full article

Getting the vax facts straight

As Michael S. Kinch, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, writes for Technology Networks,  “If there are fewer infected people, the number of mutations (and variants) will proportionately decrease.” While some experts say we are near reaching herd immunity, Kinch argues between lack of immune response in some individuals and others who choose not to be vaccinated, reaching 80% immunization will be challenging. He calls on readers to arm themselves with the facts and have “honest and construction conversations with those who are hesitant or opposed to vaccination.”

Read the full article

Testing is here to stay

Until the majority of the population is vaccinated, we’ll need regular testing – but the way we test, and who we test, may look different. One area of continued need: schools. “Testing builds confidence and comfort in going back to school,” Mara Aspinall, an advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation, told Slate.

Read the full article

Life science stories you may have missed – October, 2021

Life Science stories you may have missed – March 2021

The U.K.’s new test-and-sequence strategy

 Despite experts’ pleas for increased COVID-19 sequencing to identify and track new variants, most countries still lag in sequencing efforts. In the U.K., however, sequencing rates are not only significantly higher, the country has also adopted a new guideline requiring all positive samples from travelers visiting from “red list” countries to be sequenced and tracked. Read more…

Progress on a vaccine for children

While global vaccination rates have been creeping up, Moderna has just started enrolling participants in its KidCOVE study to evaluate safety of the vaccine in children aged 6 months to 12 years old. Read more…

Is CAR-M the new CAR-T?

Animal studies have shown when a CAR is attached to a macrophage it can “enter the tumor’s environment like a Trojan horse,” Jason Mast writes for Endpoints News, to attack the tumor and also convert other macrophages into cancer killers. Now, a new trial is testing CAR-macrophages, or CAR-M, in humans. Read more…


Life science stories you may have missed – October, 2021

Life sciences stories you may have missed – November 2020

Parking fees should not be a hurdle to healthcare

“Even getting to a hospital or clinic for radiation, chemotherapy sessions, or regular checkups in itself can be a challenge for some patients. For those relying on public transport or in rural areas, access to public transit or the cost of filling up a tank of gas can pose hurdles to cancer care.” In an article for STAT, Priyanka Runwal covers some of the factors that contribute to higher rates of mortality among Black women diagnosed with cancer.

Fast-tracking vaccine development

The Washington Post continues to use graphics to break down the science behind vaccine development. The paper’s latest update tracks 200 vaccines, from 170+ experimental vaccines in pre-clinical development to 10 vaccines currently in Phase 3 clinical trials.

For a quick primer on the three technologies making the compressed timeline to a vaccine possible, check out this article from Michael White, assistant professor of genetics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, on genetically engineered viruses, DNA vaccines and mRNA vaccines.

CRISPR cautions

New York Times reporter Katherine Wu recently covered a study published in the journal Cell that found CRISPR-Cas9 can cause serious side effects in the cells of human embryos. The research team found the gene-editing tool “appeared to wreak a genetic havoc in about half the specimens that the researchers examined.” The results underscore what scientists have been saying since Chinese “CRISPR babies scientist” He Jiankui sent shockwaves across the industry: it’s too soon to use genome editing in human embryos.

Life science stories you may have missed – October, 2021

Life science stories you may have missed – 10/01/20

The argument against herd immunity

In a recent article, Kaiser Health News set out to clear up the confusion on herd immunity. Herd immunity is the point at which enough people are resistant to a disease that it is unlikely to spread in the population, protecting the community from infection. According to the article, 50-70% of the population needs to be immunized to reach herd immunity for COVID-19. But experts predict this would equate to widespread illness and an “incredible number of deaths.” Further, cases of reinfection have raised questions on how long immunity lasts and whether someone who has immunity can still spread the virus. Dr. Stuart Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, concludes: “We can’t count on natural herd immunity as a way to control the epidemic.”


From cancer research to tracking coronavirus

When COVID-19 hit, Dr. Paraic Kenny, director of the Kabara Cancer Research Institute at the Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., wondered how his team could join the fight against the pandemic. Using existing equipment and expertise sequencing patients’ tumors, he converted his lab to begin sequencing COVID-19 patient samples to better understand the virus and its spread. To his surprise, the team found a fast-growing cluster they were able to trace to a single source: a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The Washington Post breaks down the science behind Dr. Kenny’s discovery in “The code: How genetic science helped expose a secret coronavirus outbreak.”


New report sheds further light on the opioid crisis

Ed Silverman writes for STAT that a “lack of coordination from opioid makers” hindered the success of a safety program intended to minimize opioid abuse and misuse. When the FDA began requiring REMS, or risk evaluation and mitigation strategy programs, for opioids in 2011 it was seen as an important move to curb the opioid crisis. But a new report shows that manufacturers often failed to submit required data on how often opioids were prescribed, side effects, and the results of surveys on prescriber and patient awareness of risks, such as addiction. Silverman says the conclusions are “especially problematic, when considering that, although opioid prescribing has decreased by 34% since 2012, health care providers still prescribed about 80% more opioids in 2018 than during the 1990s.”