Cool Stuff

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Farming the Sea for Biotech Discoveries

The sea covers around 70% of the earth, and contains around 97% of the world’s water. It’s also home to almost 240,000 species (that have been identified so far), from mammals and fish, down to bacteria and viruses. However, as a biotech resource, it is still untapped.

“There are still many societal challenges that the marine environment could help us to meet, such as antibiotic resistance. It is a source of chemical diversity, with novel targets and novel modes of action.”

— Jeanette Hammer Andersen, professor in marine bioprospecting at UiT-The Arctic University of Norway

Check out what some companies are doing in this area here.

Growing Personalized Blood Cells

An everyday problem in the medical community is a lack of blood donations which are needed for transfusions worldwide. Now researchers are looking to “brew blood.”

Using a small sample of a patient’s own blood, scientists can reprogram red blood cells back into master stem cells and then coax them back into red blood cells that are unique to that patient. They can then grow the red blood cells over and over again in the lab.

Check this new report from CBS here.

The Cancer Ecosystem

Cancer is increasingly being viewed as an ecosystem, a community in which tumor cells cooperate with other tumor cells and host cells in their microenvironment. As conditions change, the ecosystem evolves and adapts to ensure the survival and growth of cancer.

Successful treatment and prevention of cancer require an ecosystem, too—a coordinated unit of researchers, patients, health care professionals, health care systems, regulatory agencies, government, and industry. How can these partners work together as one interconnected community?

Sandra J. Horning, the Chief Medical Officer and Global Head of Product Development at Genentech and Roche has some ideas. Check them out here.

“Importantly, basic scientific research that unlocks the mysteries of cancer and discovers targets for therapy, early detection, and prevention is the core of a healthy ecosystem to tame the disease.”

Cancer subtypes could be distinguished using metabolomic analysis

The emerging field of metabolomics has the potential to contribute significantly to biomarker discovery and cancer. While other techniques, such as DNA sequencing, have led to significant advances in precision oncology, metabolomics has yet to make its mark on the field.

New methods of using metabolomics as a tool for clinical cancer research and care were presented at the 2nd Annual Biomarker Conference by CureMatch, developer of a decision support platform for combination therapy in cancer.
See the full story at Oncology Central.

Atomic Force Microscopy – Say What??

Knowledge of protein folding is important because proteins must assume the correct three-dimensional structure to function properly. Misfolding may inactivate a protein or make it toxic. A new approach has allowed JILA scientists to capture the protein’s folding steps at microsecond resolution.

By showing how the folding of membrane proteins can be studied in more detail, JILA scientists have shown how researchers may better understand previously obscure biophysical processes related to diseases such as neurodegeneration and cancer.

Get the full story at Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

New Article in GEN

“The increased complexity was stunning. Better instruments revealed all sorts of hidden dynamics that were obscured over the last 17 years when using conventional technology.”

— Tom Perkins, Ph.D., the leader of the team at JILA

Genes in Fat Cells May Contribute to Dangerous Diseases

A sweeping international effort is connecting the dots between genes in our fat cells and our risk for obesity and cardiometabolic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The researchers have identified approximately 90 genes found in fat that could play important roles in such diseases – and could be targeted to develop new treatments or cures.

“Genetic factors do not work in isolation – they work in a holistic way, so I think that these kind of studies that we are publishing are key to understanding what’s happening in human populations.”

— Mete Civelek of the University of Virginia School of Medicine
Read the entire article at Science Blog

GRAIL Raises $900M to Develop Early Blood Tests for Cancer

GRAIL is combining what it calls high-intensity (ultrabroad and ultradeep) sequencing and population-based clinical trials to characterize circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in healthy individuals and cancer patients. The ultimate aim is to develop cancer diagnostics that can detect tumors early enough to cure the disease. See the full story at Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

New Article in GEN

This is a core focus for all precision medicine oncology approaches, including ours. We believe that a multi-omic focus that goes beyond circulating tumor cells can have major advantages.

Ebola Biomarker Discovery

A team of researchers led by Boston University, the University of Liverpool, Public Health England, and other international agencies has discovered a biomarker that can help predict the progression of the Ebola disease: a handful of genes that are overactivated in patients who succumb to the disease.

The research, funded by the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research and the US Food and Drug Administration, and published on January 19, 2017, in the journal Genome Biology, suggests a new type of blood test that while still in the preliminary stages of development, might be useful in future outbreaks to steer patients to the best treatment.

“We can get a sense of who will survive and who won’t, and we can get it earlier. This is the first study of this type ever done on this scale.”

– John Connor, a School of Medicine associate professor of microbiology at BU’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories

Get the full story at Science Blog

The Importance of microRNAs

New Article in GEN Explores miRNA

After advances to genomics and transcriptomics technology, scientists have realized that about 98% of the genome contains sequences that perform key regulatory functions. Some of these sequences give rise to microRNAs (miRNAs), small noncoding RNA molecules that have emerged as one of the most complex, multilayered, and intriguing constituents of gene-regulatory networks.

“The future is bright for the diagnostic use of microRNAs”

– Christos Argyropoulos, M.D., Ph.D.

“The goal in biomarker development is to use microRNA expression-based biomarkers to better manage the clinical treatment of cancer,” declares Dr. Jingfang Ju,Ph.D., professor of pathology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Historically, mRNA expression, DNA mutations, and proteins have been used as the most common biomarkers.

Expanding the biomarker universe to create new diagnostic and treatment solutions is critical to improving the human condition and a main focus of Forentis Fund. To read the whole article in GEN, click here.

Promising Pancreatic Cancer Biomarkers

Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths because it often goes undetected in early stages, according to the Mayo Clinic. Researchers report a rapid and inexpensive nanoparticle-based diagnostic fueled, in part, by a biomarker on the surface of vesicles released by pancreatic tumors according to a recent article in Chemical and Engineering News.

As tumors develop, they release microscopic vesicles into a person’s blood. If biosensors could isolate and identify these vesicles, researchers could potentially catch cancer early by pricking a person’s finger and analyzing blood droplets. This process could be easier and less costly than more conventional biopsies or positron emission tomography scans.

Read the entire article here.