Here’s our weekly summary of tweets from @hfdigest, and their significance.

Genomic and Regenerative Medicine

Until now, the known genetic markers for melanoma have all been associated with skin pigmentation or moles. Now, three have been found that are not associated in that way, which means that people with those markers may be at even greater risk than most. The research provides not only a deeper understanding of the causes of the fastest-growing cancer in the population but also a potential new approach to identifying people most at risk. If the risk is known, then the individual can take preventive actions to forestall the disease.

Eventually, it may be possible to correct the aberrant markers. After all, the marker (gene mutation) responsible for both cirrhotic liver disease and lung emphysema has already been successfully repaired in mice. (MIT Technology Review also reported on this breakthrough.) One of the interesting aspects of this therapy is that it combines (as George Church would have predicted) both genetics and regenerative medicine, in that the genetic error was carried in stem cells, which were then removed from the (human) patient, genetically reprogrammed, and re-injected into the (mouse) liver, where they were accepted and functioned as normal, healthy liver cells. (Speaking of reprogramming: A 100-fold increase in efficiency has recently been achieved in reprogramming adult (differentiated) cells back to stem cells. This is an important advance, because it will make the search for therapies much faster and much cheaper.)

The next step for the liver and lung therapy is Phase I (safety) clinical trials in humans. The curative potential of such breakthroughs makes one wonder if it isn’t unethical to deny their use in treatment while waiting for the costly wheels of a clinical trial to grind slowly into gear. Some physician friends and I will be writing on this very topic in my next column in Hospitals & Health Networks Daily. My most recent column in H&HN, written with biotechnology researcher Dr. Ramesh Babu Batchu, covers the “big picture” of genomic medicine today. You might find it useful as background for these Digest articles and for my daily tweets at @hfdigest.

Just by the way: All of my bimonthly columns for H&HN going back to 2004 can be found here. Most remain relevant, I like to think, and you might find them useful for research or as background.

Bionic Medicine

The BBC’s Katia Moskvitch posted a very nice summary of current brain-machine interfaces (BMI) that enable locked-in patients and others with disabilities to use a PC or robot prosthetic. I recommend you read it, because the BMI has potential not just in health but also in what I have long been wont to call “superhealth,” a state where we will be able to live and perform beyond the bounds of our biological frame. That includes leaping tall buildings in a single bound, like SuperWo/Man: look here for information about carbon nanotube muscle for making SuperWo/Men and tiny motors for in-body surgical robots, etc.

Assorted Advances

  • A molecular lock for Alzheimer’s and stroke mechanisms has been found. Now all we need is a key (a drug) to unlock it and free the patient of the disease. This is great work but it has some way to go before the key is developed.
  • Small interfering RNA (siRNA) technology has been found to block the inflammation that adds to damage caused by disease/injury.
  • A “smart” Petri dish plus a microscope plus an incubator add up to a fast, cheap device for diagnostic testing and biomedical research. Yes, there is one under development.


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