Illustration showing major Biology related breakthroughs in 2017
BIOSCIENCE RESEARCH, 2017
- CREATING LIFE IN LABORATORY
- A DRUG FOR MANY CANCERS
- MUTATION EDITING.
- HUMAN ORIGINS PUSHED FURTHER
- ZIKA VIRUS SUBSIDES
EMERGING BIOTECH, 2017
- CAR T-CELL THERAPY
- CRISPR/CAS TECHNOLOGY
- LIQUID BIOPSIES
- GENOMIC VACCINES
- HUMAN CELL ATLAS
This is an effort to summarize the key advances made in the area of Biology in the year 2017. These breakthroughs are divided into two categories. The first half focuses on major advances in basic science research while the second half describes the emerging Bio-Tech and their potential. These breakthroughs were selected based on their wide spread coverage over the year by elite journals, Science news websites, STI sources and importance attached to their applications and implications.
Institution & Team leader: The Scripps Research Institute, California, Professor Floyd Romesberg
Achievement: A team of researchers at Scripps created two synthetic basic pairs termed as Unnatural base pairs (UBP) in 2014. These base pairs were named as “X” & “Y”, could be integrated into the naturally existing DNA of E.coli. However, this year scientists have achieved the coding capacity of these synthetic UBP. They have bioengineered the tRNAs with anticodons that are complementary to codons that contain an unnatural base hence transcribing and translating a reporter mRNA into a functional protein (Green fluorescent protein). This research provides a proof that semi synthetic organism can encode, retrieve and expand the synthetic or unnatural information.
Figure 1: DNA helix containing natural and synthetic base pairs (right) and potential applications of translated synthetic base pairs (Credits: Nanowerk).
Significance: Most of current efforts are concentrated toward blocking disease causing cellular processes or by editing the genetic material to correct the disease patterns. In contrast to these efforts, researchers of this research believe that by expanding the family of genetic code alphabets one can produce a range of diverse letters (proteins). These proteins can work better as medicines as they are capable of surviving longer in body or they can be assembled when required.
Reference: Y Zhang, JL Ptacin, EC Fischer, HR Aerni, CE Caffaro, K San Jose, AW Feldman, CR Turner, FE Romesberg (2017) Nature 551:644-647
Further reading: http://www.businessinsider.com/new-life-form-amino-acids-x-y-dnaromesberg-synthorx-2017-11
In May, 2017 FDA approved PD-1 inhibitor based drugs for more than one form of cancers. PD-1 inhibitor is known as “checkpoint of immune system”. The principle mechanism of this drug is that it targets cancer cells that express mismatch repair deficiency, regardless of the origin of cancer cells in the body. This drug is manufactured by Merck and branded as Keytruda.
FDA’s approval is partly driven by a recent study published in science, carried out by Diaz,Dung Le at Johns Hopkins where 86 patients carrying 12 different cancers , all having mismatch repair deficiency were given PD-1 inhibitor. Fifty three percent of these patients responded to the drug.
Further reading: https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm560167.htm
Researchers at The Broad institute and MIT have developed a method that can effectively and precisely cut and change single RNA nucleosides in the mammalian cells using REPAIR technology. The molecular system of RNA editing for programmable A to I replacement (REPAIR) is based on CRISPR/CAS technology. However in contrast to CRISPR, this technology works at RNA level. The inherent capacity of this technology to work at RNA makes it more reliable due to the temporary nature of RNA. This technology has the potential to reverse the disease causing mutations and will be an indispensible tool for therapeutic and basic science based research.
Further reading: http://www.livemint.com/Science/B3WrOP2IGnxorEnikgndNM/New-RNA-editing-tool-can-eradicate-genetic-diseases.html
A team of researchers led by paleoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany re-excavated caves at Jebel Irhoud, 100 kilometers west of Marrakesh, Morocco and found fossils. Using specialized dating techniques, it was found that these remains were 286,000 years old. These dates coincide with the existence of H.sapiens in Africa between 330,000 to 300,000 years ago. It has been concluded on the base of this new evidence that people of Jebel Irhoud were part of larger and interbreeding group of H.sapien across Africa.
Further reading: https://www.nature.com/news/oldest-homo-sapiens-fossil-claim-rewrites-our-species-history-1.22114
In the last months of 2016, Zika virus reports shocked Western hemisphere of the world including USA, Cambodia and Brazil. But in 2017 Zika virus has subsided significantly is likely to wane further with each passing day due to the presumed emergence of herd immunity. However Epidemiologists and molecular biologists are worried about the reemergence of Zika Virus therefore a new DNA based vaccine has been reported and tested in humans in Oct 2017 by University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, findings are reported in New England Journal of Medicine.
Further reading: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1708120#t=article
Company & Approved by: Novartis, Gilead Sciences, Inc & FDA
Achievement: This year FDA has approved two CAR T-cell based treatments. First was Kymriah, introduced by Novartis in August 2017 for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) for children. On 18th Oct 2017, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it has approved Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell therapy for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This treatment is being introduced by California based Gilead science company under the drug label of Yescarta. In six months long clinical trial, this treatment has been tested on 101 patients, among which 82 patients has their tumors shrink half to its size while in 36 % of the patients saw their cancer completely disappear.
Figure 2: Illustration showing the mechanism of CAR T- cell therapy (Credits: Nature reviews Immunology).
Significance: Successful clinical trial has pushed the CAR T Cell therapy towards the bedside use of the personalized therapy for cancer treatment in patients. This therapy is likely to work as a site and cancer specific treatment eliciting minimum to low side effects.
Reference: Fry, T. J., Shah, N. N., Orentas, R. J., Stetler-Stevenson, M., Yuan, C. M., Ramakrishna, S.,& Shalabi, H. (2017). CD22-targeted CAR T cells induce remission in B-ALL that is naive or resistant to CD19-targeted CAR immunotherapy. Nature medicine.
Further reading: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/modified-t-cells-attack-leukemia-become-first-gene-therapy-approved-united-states
CRISPR/CAS is recognized as a ground breaking technology in terms of its use for therapeutic purposes. In 2017, a lot of progress has been made by using CRISPR/CAS technology. HIV virus was successfully removed using CRISPR/CAS technology from living organisms. This study used 3 different animal models. Apart from many medical breakthroughs CRISPR/CAS technology has also been used to produce sustainable biofuels in the algae. The genetic editing in the algae yielded twice an amount of biofuel than its wild type. The first clinical trials are slated to begin in the U.S. and Europe by 2018.
Further reading: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2133095-boom-in-human-gene-editing-as-20-crispr-trials-gear-up/
Scientists are striving to make cancer diagnostics minimally invasive, effective and reliable at the same time. One of these efforts is expected to play a huge role in the coming years that is the use of liquid biopsies. These liquid biopsies are based on the collection of simple blood samples that are further processed to identify and amplify signature cancer DNA sequences known as “circulating-tumour DNA (ctDNA)”. In contrast to solid tumor biopsies, liquid biopsies can aid in determining the effectiveness of cancer treatment or disease progression. Two companies GRAIL and Freenome have raised 900 million and 65 million USD respectively to run clinical trials based on this technology. This technology is already in use but in conjugation with other diagnostic tests.
Further reading: http://fortune.com/2017/06/03/liquid-biopsy-grail-blood-cancer/
The concept of vaccine dates back to 1879 however this concept has been revived under the heading of GENOMIC VACCINES. Genomic vaccines uses DNA or RNA fragment to illicit immune response and memory instead of using protein structures. The unparalleled advantage of this technology is the rapid design and manufacturing of these vaccines for infectious agents such as Ebola and Zika Virus. Another advantage of these vaccines is that single vaccine can contain coding sequence for multiple proteins which works effectively as the nature of infectious agent changes. Clinical trials are under way to determine the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines against avian influenza, HIV, Ebola and HCV.
Further reading: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/genomic-vaccines/
In order to completely understand the how human body works, how cells interact, what proteins and genes are switched off /on at what instant, how body regulates change in complex settings, answering these questions require an extraordinary set of information. For the sake of complexity and arcane task at hand an international consortium has been launched to develop a HUMAN CELL ATLAS. The sole purpose of this consortium will be to catalogue 37.2 trillion cells of the human body.
The atlas will include the relevant existing cellular information. Human cell atlas will be complemented and integrated with all the “omes” such as genome (Full set of genes), transcriptome (full set of RNAs), Proteome (full set of proteins), the metabolome (full set of cellular metabolites) and lastly Fluxome (information about metabolic reactions that vary under different conditions). Human cell atlas is expected to be inestimably valuable tool for precision medicine and health care.
Further reading: https://www.nature.com/news/the-human-cell-atlas-from-vision-to-reality-1.22854