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New year promises better medical care through high technology


Senior Member
In my eyes, the sooner we get these new technologies working, the better. The current system is old, delivers bad results and is ridiculous expensive for what it delivers. Out with the old, in with the new. 2014 will be an interesting year. Nanopores announced, that they will be able to sequence a full(!) human genome within 15 minutes with their new sequencing machines. We will see, if they can keep their promise. Other innovations include:



Cancer immunotherapy

Rather than directly targeting the cancer cells, immunotherapies are focused on driving a cancer patient’s immune system to eliminate tumours, says Dr Lawrence Fong, UCSF associate professor of medicine, in the university press release.

"In contrast to conventional cancer treatments, immunotherapies can lead to long-lasting clinical responses."

Dr Fong is one of growing numbers of specialists and oncologists worldwide who say that conventional chemotherapy for cancer is seriously lacking.

"Currently available compounds kill normal cells as well as cancer cells, leading to serious side effects," Dr Fong says.

The immune system, meanwhile, is "remarkably effective at combating foreign bacterial or foreign invaders while sparing normal cells, but the goal of coaxing immune cells to target cancer has eluded researchers for decades", he says.

In recent years, researchers have identified receptors expressed on immune system cells that put the brakes on the immune response. In recent clinical trials of antibodies that block these receptors, doctors have seen "unprecedented responses in metastatic melanoma and lung cancer, both of which are almost always fatal with conventional treatments".

Because the immune system has a "memory," these responses have proven far more durable than those to targeted cancer drugs, the university says; some patients treated at UCSF for late-stage metastatic prostate cancer with immunotherapy are still living more than six years later.


Genome editing

In the US, a system known as Crisprs (short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gives doctors "unprecedented ability to reach in and surgically alter and manipulate the genome", says Dr Wendell Lim, UCSF professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology, on the university’s website.

Their effect on basic discovery and on biotechnology and medicine will be "revolutionary", he says.

The 1998 discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) provided scientists with a "powerful tool to target and switch off the expression of particular genes to unravel their function", Dr Lim says.

However, RNAi can be imprecise, causing unintended "off-target" silencing of genes, and the technique can be time-consuming and cumbersome to employ in experiments. Other methods, such as zinc-finger proteins, have "similar limitations", he says.

Crisprs are a gene-editing system that could revolutionise everything from disease treatment to plant biology, Dr Lim says. The technique involves programming an RNA guide molecule to target a section of defective DNA and replace it with "good" DNA, the university says.

The human microbiome

"Microbiome research is rapidly identifying relationships between the bacterial ecosystem in the human gut and an ever-expanding range of diseases," says Susan Lynch, associate professor of medicine at UCSF, on the university’s website.

"This field of research will prove transformative in the development of novel microbiome-based therapies to treat or prevent respiratory, gastrointestinal and even neurological disorders," says Dr Lynch

Though scientists have long known that bacteria reside in and on our bodies, it is only over the past few years that research has unveiled the staggering scale of these populations and their crucial importance to health, she says.

There are as many as 1,000 bacterial species known to live in the human gut alone, and all told, these organisms — collectively known as the microbiome — outnumber our own cells by a factor of 10 and account for 1% to 3% of our total body mass, Dr Lynch says.

Disturbances in these microbial communities have now been associated with a range of serious chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, obesity, cancer, and even psychiatric and neurological disorders, she says.

The emergence of new therapies targeting the microbiome is one of the most exciting frontiers in medicine.

The university says Dr Lynch has recently shown how having a dog in the home alters the gut microbiome, which in turn modulates the immune system to lower the risk of asthma and respiratory infection.

Cell therapy

Technology is already available to generate stem cells from a sample of a patient’s skin, correct the genetic mutation in those cells and return the "gene-corrected" cells back to the patient for therapy, says David Rowitch, professor of paediatrics and neurological surgery at the university.

"These cells have the advantage of containing the patient’s own genetic code, so they escape rejection by the body’s immune system," Dr Rowitch says.

"For years, investigators have worked to enable gene therapy to correct mutations resulting in human disease — but successfully delivering repaired genes into cells has been a formidable challenge," he says.

The discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, by Nobel laureate Dr Shinya Yamanaka, and colleagues in 2006 has brought new hope to the field by making a cell-based approach to gene therapy possible, Dr Rowitch says.

Researchers can now use a patient’s skin cells to create iPS cells that then can be induced to differentiate into the specialised cell types that make up the various organs of the body, he says. Faulty genes can be corrected in these differentiated cells, which can then be placed directly into affected organs.