By Elizabeth Pennisi
Although it has a face—and body—that only a mother could love, the naked mole rat has a lot to offer biomedical science. It lives 10 times longer than a mouse, almost never gets cancer, and doesn’t feel pain from injury and inflammation. Now, researchers say they’ve figured out how the rodents keep this pain away.
“It’s an amazing result,” says Harold Zakon, an evolutionary neurobiologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who was not involved with the work. “This study points us to important areas … that might be targeted to reduce this type of pain.”
Naked mole rats are just plain weird. They live almost totally underground in colonies structured like honey bee hives, with hundreds of workers servicing a single queen and her few consorts. To survive, they dig kilometers of tunnels in search of large underground tubers for food. It’s such a tough life that—to conserve energy—this member of the rodent family gave up regulating its temperature, and they are able to thrive in a low-oxygen, high–carbon dioxide environment that would suffocate or be very painful to humans. “They might as well be from another planet,” says Thomas Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Read more
By Eric S. Lander
IS THE PROMISE of genomic medicine overhyped?
This might seem a strange question coming from one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, and the director of the Broad Institute, which brings together researchers from Harvard, MIT, and Harvard-affiliated hospitals to accelerate the understanding and treatment of disease.
I think the answer is a clear yes — and a resounding no. The contradiction highlights a thorny challenge in the ongoing conversation between scientists and the public.
This summer, I gave a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival in which I discussed the need to accelerate medical progress through data-sharing and expressed the hope that, within the next 30 to 40 years, we might have enough knowledge to be able to turn cancer, for the majority of patients, into a treatable chronic condition rather than a lethal disease. Read more
by Jess Vilvestre
CORRECTING A MUTATION
Gene editing shows promise as a new treatment for sickle cell disease, according to a study published in the online journal Science Translational Medicine.
Experts from the University of California, Berkeley, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), and the University of Utah School of Medicine have found success in correcting the blood cell mutation in tests of the blood of both mice and human sickle cell patients using CRISPR-Cas9, a genome “scissor” that can cut out and edit a DNA sequence.
After CRISPR was used to correct the mutated hematopoietic stem cells — precursor cells that mature into the hook-shaped hemoglobin characteristic of sickle cell disease, the corrected blood stem cells produced healthy hemoglobin. Following reintroduction into the mice, the genetically engineered stem cells remained in circulation for at least four months — a significant indication that any potential therapy would be lasting. Read more