We Got Scott!
On May 9, Scott Gottlieb, MD, was confirmed as the new FDA Commissioner in a largely party-line vote of 57-42. Democrats opposing Gottlieb cited his ties with pharma companies, despite his pledge to “divest himself from several health care companies and recuse himself for one year from decisions involving those businesses.” Others praise Gottlieb’s long experience with pharma, and anticipate he’ll likely cut back on FDA regulations and speed up drug approvals.
Novel gene editing approach may be new weapon against cancer
A study published in Nature Biotechnology shows that a novel use of the gene editing technology CRISPR shrank aggressive cancerous tumors in mice. The gene editing targeted two specific “cancerous fusion genes” – hybrids formed when two genes join together. Fusion genes are one of the ways cancer cells mutate and develop drug resistance. Using CRISPR, the researchers replaced the fusion DNA with a gene coding for an enzyme that converts the drug ganciclovir to its active form, which blocks DNA synthesis and leads to cell death. The researchers found this CRISPR editing approach killed tumor cells in culture and shrank them in mice, and prevented tumors transplanted into mice from growing and spreading. The study is the first to use gene editing to target cancerous fusion genes.
Young human plasma boosts mouse memories
A study in a recent issue of Nature shows that human umbilical cord plasma can rejuvenate old mice’s brains and improve their memories. Mice that received the human cord blood improved their ability to learn, remember maze navigation and make nests for babies. Of course, with few exceptions, mice aren’t people (Mickey Mouse comes close), but an independent expert said “there is good reason to be optimistic that some of these approaches will have similar effects on health span in people.” The investigators also identified a protein called TIMP2 from the plasma that appeared to be responsible for the benefits, holding out the possibility of synthesizing it rather than relying on cord blood as the source.
Want to get ahead? (From the “WHAT???” file)
Okay, hang on to your hat (literally)! The Italian neurosurgeon, Sergio Canavero, recently announced that he will participate, along with his colleague Dr. Xiaoping Ren, in the world’s first human head transplant operation in China within the next 10 months. The doctor has not provided any technical details about the procedure, but has reportedly performed it successfully in rats. The procedure is intended to help people who are confined to wheelchairs. Not surprisingly, the idea has stirred considerable controversy because of technical medical as well as ethical issues.
The May 4 issue of NEJM had an interesting review article about how collaborations among academic institutions, foundations, and industry partners have evolved to address the challenges of developing therapies for orphan diseases, using cystic fibrosis, multiple myeloma and type 1 diabetes as case examples.
The May 2 issue of JAMA had 23 viewpoint articles conflicts of interest (COI) for physicians in various settings, from academic medicine and research to medical education and publishing. Two Editorials also focus on potential COIs in healthcare and medical journalism.