Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

For most of us, managing our health means visiting a doctor. The more serious our concerns, the more specialized a medical expert we seek. Our bodies often feel like foreign and frightening lands, and we are happy to let someone with an MD serve as our tour guide. For most of us, our own DNA never makes it onto our personal reading list.

Biohackers are on a mission to change all that. These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.

In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

via Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology? – Technology Review.

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Scientists ferret out a key pathway for aging

For decades, scientists have been searching for the fundamental biological secrets of how eating less extends lifespan.

It has been well documented in species ranging from spiders to monkeys that a diet with consistently fewer calories can dramatically slow the process of aging and improve health in old age. But how a reduced diet acts at the most basic level to influence metabolism and physiology to blunt the age-related decline of tissues and cells has remained, for the most part, a mystery.

Now, writing in the current online issue (Nov. 18) of the journal Cell, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and their colleagues describe a molecular pathway that is a key determinant of the aging process. The finding not only helps explain the cascade of events that contributes to aging, but also provides a rational basis for devising interventions, drugs that may retard aging and contribute to better health in old age. Continue reading “Scientists ferret out a key pathway for aging”

New study into bladder regeneration heralds organ replacement treatment

Researchers in the United States have developed a medical model for regenerating bladders using stem cells harvested from a patient’s own bone marrow. The research, published in STEM CELLS, is especially relevant for paediatric patients suffering from abnormally developed bladders, but also represents another step towards new organ replacement therapies.

The research, led by Dr Arun Sharma and Earl Cheng from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and Children’s Memorial Research Center, focused on bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) taken from the patient. Previously studies into the regenerative capacity of cells in bladders have focused on animal models, but these have translated poorly in clinical settings. Continue reading “New study into bladder regeneration heralds organ replacement treatment”

Silencing growth inhibitors could help recovery from brain injury

Silencing natural growth inhibitors may make it possible to regenerate nerves damaged by brain or spinal cord injury, finds a study from Children’s Hospital Boston. In a mouse study published in the November 7 issue of Science, researchers temporarily silenced genes that prevent mature neurons from regenerating, and caused them to recover and re-grow vigorously after damage. Continue reading “Silencing growth inhibitors could help recovery from brain injury”

New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers

A drug which was developed in Cambridge and initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia has also proven effective against combating the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, has found that alemtuzumab not only stops MS from advancing in patients with early stage active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) but may also restore lost function caused by the disease. The findings were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Continue reading “New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers”

Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes

A powerful antioxidant in green tea may prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, Medical College of Georgia researchers say.

Researchers were testing EGCG, green tea’s predominant antioxidant, in a laboratory mouse with type 1 diabetes and primary Sjogren’s syndrome, which damages moisture-producing glands, causing dry mouth and eyes. Continue reading “Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes”

Gene therapy restores vision to mice with retinal degeneration

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have used gene therapy to restore useful vision to mice with degeneration of the light-sensing retinal rods and cones, a common cause of human blindness. Their report, appearing in the Oct. 14 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the effects of broadly expressing a light-sensitive protein in other neuronal cells found throughout the retina. Continue reading “Gene therapy restores vision to mice with retinal degeneration”