In the future when you check into a hospital, doctors and physicians may assign you your own mouse. This isn’t for a pet- this is for your own diagnosis. The immune-deficient mouse, specially bred for this job, will receive a transplant of your tissue, which will allow it to mimic your immune system, or whatever your specified type of disease afflicting you. Then doctors can try out a cocktail of drugs or gene therapies to see what might work on you, using the mouse as a test first.
Two teams of researchers have been working on personalized mouse models, or mouse avatars, that can serve as test beds for doctors looking for the right treatments. Physicians could try different combinations of drugs to see what works best without the consequences of human trial and error and losing human lives. Doctors at Columbia University have created mice with human immune systems, which they are using to study autoimmune diseases. “The work took several weeks, but in the end, the mouse had a complete human immune system, including T cells, beta cells and myeloid cells, which create other immune cells. Sykes plans to use this personalized immune mouse to study type 1 diabetes, which is caused by errant T cells attacking insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. That paper was published last week in Science Translational Medicine.”
“In one recent study, Australian researchers were working with a pancreatic cancer patient, trying to determine genetic mutations that could make his cancer susceptible to certain drugs. They grafted a piece of the patient’s tumor tissue onto mice with depleted immune systems, so the mice would not reject the transplant. They tested a cancer drug that their gene screening suggested could work, and they were right — the tumor shrank after the mice were treated.” This is a great breakthrough that presents very hopeful treatment prospects in the future for cancer patients especially, but also patients afflicted with other illnesses.
Since growing a personalized mouse is tricky and expensive, scientists are working to make it more affordable, commonplace, and more mass-produced so that hopefully in the near future, maybe as soon as 15 or 20 years, we will be able to have this personalized treatment available to nearly all patients. Research likes this shows a very promising outlook for the medical and diagnostic field. Do you guys think this is a great advancement? Do you think it work should be continued? How do you think that it will help future patients?
Even though it is far from Christmas time, this is an article I read from Huffington Post Science about “A Christmas Carol” that I found interesting to share with you guys. Remember Tiny Tim, from Charles Dickens’ novella? Now, a medical doctor thinks he has the answer to his illness, although Dickens never explains why Tiny Tim wears leg braces and uses a crutch. According to Russell Chesney, a physician at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tiny Tim suffered from a combination of rickets and tuberculosis.
Chesney made his diagnosis based on Tim’s deformities described in the text, along with the story’s insinuation that the boy’s disease would be curable if his father had more money. Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a Vitamin D deficiency or calcium deficiency. Lack of these nutrients softens the bones, and leg braces would have been the solution back in the 1840s, at the time of the novella, Chesney says. Since vitamin D-fortified milk and infant formula was introduced decades ago, this disorder is rarely seen in the United States now. Tuberculosis was also called the “white plague” during Dickens’ time, and was known to run rampant in this era. Tiny Tim’s life in cramped, polluted London would have set him up for both rickets and tuberculosis, Chesney said. At the time, 60 percent of children of working-class London families had rickets, brought on by poor nutrition and lack of sunlight. London’s very polluted skies (oftentimes from the coal of such an industrial city) often blocked out much of the sunlight.
I think this article is extremely interesting, because I don’t know how accurate a diagnosis can be for a fictional character. While Chesney’s diagnosis makes plenty of sense and seems to be medically backed up, who knows if Dickens wrote Tiny Tim with any kind of actual disease? Perhaps he wrote him in this way to set up his story, without a real disease in mind. Thinking this, it would almost be kind of pointless to try and diagnose a fictional character, when we have no way of knowing any of the circumstances or actual symptoms. Despite all of this, I find it extremely interesting to give a diagnosis to a fictional character, and the next time that I read “A Christmas Carol,” I’ll have in mind Tiny Tim’s illness and possible diagnosis. To me, it makes his character come alive more, and I can now sympathize better with the plight of this young boy.
I was reading my daily Science articles and came across a very interesting article titled,An ‘Operating System’ That Runs on Cells Could Create Whole New Life Forms. It is about how scientists are working to develop reprogrammable cells. These cells could then be programmed to do a whole bunch of useful tasks. There goal is to get a working programmable cell so that the field of synthetic biology can take off as a larger field of science. If the field takes off then scientists will be able to get to work on cells that can “clean up unwanted carbon from the air, pull pollutants from drinking water, attack pathogens inside the human body, and protect food sources from agricultural pests.” My thought is this, though. Would it be possible to design a programmable virus that is immune to vaccines and that can be controlled in how it spreads. People could use this technology for bad and spread an evil ultimate that is unstoppable. I know the chances are slim but it could happen. What are your thoughts on how this technology could be applied? Is there any sort of downsides that you guys could see to a technology like this?
This month in science brings not one, but two major headlines in disease research.
Scientists have successfully created an effective malaria vaccine after 24 years of intensive research. The vaccine is reported to be safe, effective, and cheap, and will be available for regular distribution by 2015.
Currently, almost 10% of the world’s population is affected by this dangerous disease, and many millions have died to date in the absence of a vaccine to prevent infection. Although this vaccine does not necessarily mark the end of the disease, it is a momentous step towards the eradication of the deadly parasite.
Because this disease is so widespread, there is growing concern over making the vaccine cost-efficient enough to provide the cure for all those who are in danger of being infected. This is especially an issue for malaria because the disease afflicts many poorer regions of the globe.
There are a number of antimalarial medicines available for those traveling into malaria-ridden areas, but they only provide protection from the parasites so long as the medication is active, making it unfeasible to use as a worldwide cure.
The concern at this point is for the vaccine to be shown to be effective in humans at a high rate, and with a long (preferably lifetime) period of immunity. The drug advances now to the third stage of trials where it is being tested on an afflicted population.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center also recently unveiled a new generation of prosthetics able to be controlled by the brain. Neuroscientists are working on perfecting a system to allow robotic prosthetics to be controlled strictly through intention by means of intercepting brain waves.
These programs are in their nascent stages, but immediately are yielding promising results. Robotics engineers and neuroscientists are teaming up to allow more precise control as well as a more intuitive design. Footage shows a man paralyzed in a motorcycle accident reaching out for the first time in 7 years, this time with a robotic arm that is detached from his body.
What are the implications of machines that can be operated with the mind? Are true ‘cyborgs’ in the foreseeable future?