WBEZ | genome sequencing http://www.wbez.org/tags/genome-sequencing Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Should human stem cells be used to make partly human chimeras? http://www.wbez.org/news/should-human-stem-cells-be-used-make-partly-human-chimeras-113668 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/human-stem-cells-fb02e6d109e66fe2a5d55725916b10bb79a150a3-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res454933298" previewtitle="Human stem cells, in this case made from adult skin cells, can give rise to any sort of human cell. Some scientists would like to insert such cells into nonhuman, animal embryos, in hopes of one day growing human organs for transplantation."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="Human stem cells, in this case made from adult skin cells, can give rise to any sort of human cell. Some scientists would like to insert such cells into nonhuman, animal embryos, in hopes of one day growing human organs for transplantation." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/11/05/human-stem-cells-fb02e6d109e66fe2a5d55725916b10bb79a150a3-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Human stem cells, in this case made from adult skin cells, can give rise to any sort of human cell. Some scientists would like to insert such cells into nonhuman, animal embryos, in hopes of one day growing human organs for transplantation. (Science Source)" /></div><div><div><p>An intense debate has flared over whether the federal government should fund research that creates partly human creatures using human stem cells.</p></div></div></div><p>The National Institutes of Health declared a&nbsp;<a href="http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-15-158.html">moratorium</a>&nbsp;in late September on funding this kind of research. NIH officials said they needed to assess the science and to evaluate the ethical and moral questions it raises. As part of that assessment, the NIH is holding a daylong&nbsp;<a href="http://osp.od.nih.gov/office-biotechnology-activities/event/2015-11-06-133000-2015-11-06-220000/workshop-research-animals-containing-human-cells">workshop</a>&nbsp;Friday.</p><p>Meanwhile, some prominent scientists worry that the NIH moratorium is hindering a highly promising field of research at a crucial moment. Such concerns prompted several researchers this week,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/350/6261/640.1">writing</a>&nbsp;in the journal&nbsp;Science,&nbsp;to call on the NIH to lift the moratorium.</p><p>&quot;The shadow of negativity cast around this research is going to have a major negative impact on any progress going forward,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://med.stanford.edu/seanwulab.html">Sean Wu</a>, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University, who helped write the article.</p><p>The moratorium was prompted by an increasing number of requests to fund these experiments, says&nbsp;<a href="http://osp.od.nih.gov/under-the-poliscope/wolinetz-bio">Carrie Wolinetz</a>, the NIH&#39;s associate director for science policy. In the experiments, scientists propose to insert human stem cells into very early embryos from other animals, creating&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ipscell.com/2015/10/nih-suspends-funding-of-human-chimera-research/">dual-species chimeras</a>.</p><p>&quot;The science is knocking at our door,&quot; Wolinetz told Shots in advance of the workshop. She says NIH wants to &quot;make sure that we are fully prepared from a policy and guidance point of view&quot; before making decisions about such grants.</p><p>Scientists have been creating partly human chimeras for years. Researchers use rats with human tumors to study cancer, for example, and mice with human immune systems to do AIDS research.</p><p>What&#39;s new is putting human stem cells into the embryos of&nbsp;other&nbsp;animals, very early in embryonic development.</p><p>&quot;The special issue here with stem cells is that those types of human cells are so powerful and so elastic that there&#39;s great worry about the degree to which the animals could become humanized,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.case.edu/med/bioethics/facultystaff/ixh14.htm">Insoo Hyun</a>, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University.</p><p>The goal of the research is to create chimeras that lead to new treatments for human diseases. For example, the technique might enable scientists to create better animal models for studying diseases in the laboratory.</p><p>Researchers also hope to grow human organs in animals that would be closely matched to patients needing transplants.</p><p>&quot;This could have a big impact in the way medicine is practiced,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="http://www.salk.edu/faculty/belmonte.html">Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte</a>, a professor of gene expression at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.</p><p>&quot;We don&#39;t have enough organs for transplantation,&quot; Belmonte says. &quot;Every 30 seconds of every day that passes, there is a person that dies that could be cured by using tissues or organs for transplantation.&quot;</p><p>He tells Shots he thought he was on the verge of getting an NIH grant to pursue this research before the moratorium was imposed.</p><p>The prospect of inserting human cells into early animal embryos raises a variety of concerns.</p><p><a href="http://www.dal.ca/sites/noveltechethics/our-people/francoise-baylis.html">Fran├žoise Baylis</a>, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, says the engineering of creatures that are partly human and partly nonhuman animal is objectionable because the existence of such beings &quot;would introduce inexorable moral confusion in our existing relationships with nonhuman animals, and in our future relationships with part-human hybrids and chimeras.&quot;</p><p>Another concern is that the human cells could end up in the brains of the animals. That raises the prospect that &quot;this will somehow give the animal a human consciousness, human mental capabilities,&quot; says&nbsp;<a href="https://law.stanford.edu/directory/henry-t-greely/">Hank Greely</a>, a bioethicist at Stanford University.</p><p>In addition, some scientists and bioethicists fear the stem cells could create human eggs and sperm in the animals.</p><p>&quot;If you had a male mouse that had human sperm in it, that&#39;s going to be a concern to some people, especially if it&#39;s anywhere near a female mouse that has human eggs in it,&quot; Greely says. &quot;To say the least, it&#39;s disconcerting to think about two mice making a human embryo.&quot;</p><p>Still, Greely, Hyun and the scientists conducting the research all agree that the most alarming concerns are highly unlikely. And, they say, safeguards could be put in place to allow the research to go forward.</p><p>For example, scientists could engineer the cells so that they were unable to form human brain cells, sperm or eggs. The animals could also be isolated or sterilized to prevent them from breeding.</p><p>&quot;There are certainly very effective strategies that would alleviate the concerns,&quot; Wu says.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/11/06/454693391/should-human-stem-cells-be-used-to-make-partly-human-chimeras?ft=nprml&amp;f=454693391" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 06 Nov 2015 09:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/should-human-stem-cells-be-used-make-partly-human-chimeras-113668 Buzz kill: Marijuana genome sequenced for health, not highs http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-19/buzz-kill-marijuana-genome-sequenced-health-not-highs-90875 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-August/2011-08-22/pot-joint_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Stoners and scientists alike may be stoked to learn that a startup biotech company has completed the DNA sequence of <em>Cannabis sativa</em>, or marijuana. But here's something that could ruin a high: The company hopes the data will help scientists breed pot plants <em>without </em>much THC, the mind-altering chemical in the plant. The goal is instead to maximize other compounds that may have therapeutic benefits.</p><p>Kevin McKernan, founder and chief executive officer of the company, called <a href="http://www.medicinalgenomics.com">Medicinal Genomics</a>, says <em>Cannabis sativa</em> has 84 other compounds that could fight pain or possibly even <a href="http://www.nature.com/nrc/journal/v3/n10/box/nrc1188_BX1.html">shrink tumors</a>. But anti-marijuana laws make it difficult for scientists to breed and study the plant in most countries. That's one reason he decided to publish his data for free on Amazon's EC2, a public data cloud.</p><p>McKernan, who has an office in Massachusetts and a lab in the Netherlands, where he can legally gather DNA from marijuana plants, has spent most of his career studying tumors in humans. But he tells Shots he had several friends with cancer who asked him about medical marijuana and whether it might do them some good. That got him interested in the emerging medical research on pot's healing properties.</p><p>Then he heard about a drug called <a href="http://www.gwpharm.com/sativex-faqs.aspx">Sativex</a>, a Cannabis-derived drug developed by a German pharmaceutical company to treat muscle stiffness from <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/03/29/134948248/marijuana-for-multiple-sclerosis-may-fuzz-thinking"> multiple sclerosis</a>. Sativex contains THC and another cannabanoid called CBD, which the company says keeps the psychoactive effects of THC in check. The drug is now available in the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany, and it's in trials to see if it works for cancer pain.</p><p>McKernan says Sativex might just be one of the first in a line of future pharmaceuticals using cannabis compounds for a variety of serious illnesses.</p><p>"We know which genes govern CBD and THC, but not the other 83 compounds," McKernan tells Shots. "Now that we've sequenced this genome, we can sequence other strains, and then we can tie the differences in DNA to different traits."</p><p>Opening up access to the data is especially important for a plant like <em>Cannabis</em>, McKernan says, because many scientists who'd like to study it in the U.S. and other countries can't get a license to grow it.</p><p>"A lot of people who want to contribute to this field can't, but now that this information is available, a lot of research can get done without growing any plants," McKernan said.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Fri, 19 Aug 2011 08:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-08-19/buzz-kill-marijuana-genome-sequenced-health-not-highs-90875