After more than six years of intensive effort, and repeated failures that made the quest at times seem futile, Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) and Harvard’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (HSCRB) have successfully converted mouse and human skin cells into pain sensing neurons that respond to a number of stimuli that cause acute and inflammatory pain.
Caption: This image shows human noxious stimulus detecting sensory neurons produced by converting skin cells with a set of five genes to this new fate — enabling study of ‘pain’ in a dish.
Credit: (c) Liz Buttermore
This “disease in a dish” model of pain reception may advance the understanding of different types of pain, identify why individuals differ in their pain responses or risk of developing chronic pain, and make possible the development of improved drugs to treat pain. A report on the work was given advance on-line release today by the journal Nature Neuroscience.
OF the three most fundamental scientific questions about the human condition, two have been answered.First, what is our relationship to the rest of the universe? Copernicus answered that one. We’re not at the center. We’re a speck in a large place.
Second, what is our relationship to the diversity of life? Darwin answered that one. Biologically speaking, we’re not a special act of creation. We’re a twig on the tree of evolution.
Third, what is the relationship between our minds and the physical world? Here, we don’t have a settled answer. We know something about the body and brain, but what about the subjective life inside? Consider that a computer, if hooked up to a camera, can process information about the wavelength of light and determine that grass is green. But we humans also experience the greenness. We have an awareness of information we process. What is this mysterious aspect of ourselves?
Scientists have found a way to beat back the hands of time and fight the ravages of old age, at least in mice. A new study finds that mice bred without a specific pain sensor, or receptor, live longer and are less likely to develop diseases such as diabetes in old age. What’s more, exposure to a molecule found in chili peppers and other spicy foods may confer the same benefits as losing this pain receptor—meaning that humans could potentially benefit, too.
Could the elixir of youth be as simple as a protein found in young blood? In recent years, researchers studying mice found that giving old animals blood from young ones can reverse some signs of aging, and last year one team identified a growth factor in the blood that they think is partly responsible for the anti-aging effect on a specific tissue–the heart. Now that group has shown this same factor can also rejuvenate muscle and the brain.
“This is the first demonstration of a rejuvenation factor” that is naturally produced, declines with age, and reverses aging in multiple tissues, says Harvard stem cell researcher Amy Wagers, who led efforts to isolate and study the protein. Independently, another team has found that simply injecting plasma from young mice into old mice can boost learning.
In a side-by-side comparison, a noninvasive, multitarget stool DNA test proved to be more sensitive than a fecal immunochemical test (FIT). This result, published March 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that the DNA test, which includes quantitative molecular assays for genetic abnormalities related to cancer, could significantly improve the effectiveness of colon cancer screening.
The FIT test detects hidden blood in the stool, a potential signal for cancer. In contrast, the DNA test includes quantitative molecular assays for KRAS mutations, aberrant NDRG4 and BMP3 methylation, and β-actin, plus a hemoglobin immunoassay.
The effectiveness of the DNA test was established in a study that evaluated nearly 10,000 asymptomatic patients who were deemed to be at average risk of developing colorectal cancer. It turned out that 65 (0.7%) of these patients had colorectal cancer, and 757 (7.6%) had advanced precancerous lesions. When these patients were screened, the study determined that the sensitivity for detecting colorectal cancer was 92.3% with DNA testing and 73.8% with FIT.
Posted March 18, 2014on:
The final cost of the Human Genome Project has been estimated at approximately $2.7 billion. At the time, researchers predicted costs would need to fall significantly to enable routine genome sequencing and usher in a new era of personalized and predictive medicine. In late 2001, at a scientific retreat convened by the National Human Genome Research Institute, the threshold cost of $1,000 per genome was conceived. Consequently, the “$1,000 genome” has been chased by DNA sequencing platform developers ever since.
With the recent launch of the HiSeq X Ten system, Illumina appears to have breached the $1,000 barrier to sequence a human genome in a single day. Illumina’s “$1,000 genome” claim is inclusive of instrument depreciation, consumables, DNA extraction, library preparation, and estimated labor. Although the exact cost is widely debated, this indicates a “real-world” figure rather than an abstraction of direct sequencing costs. In this context, it would appear that the personalized medicine era envisioned in 2001 has officially arrived.