New edition coming in September 2014!!!


The Forever Fix gang: Corey Haas with book, surrounded by mom Nancy and dad Ethan Haas, Ricki Lewis on left next to Lori and Hannah Sames. At book signing 3/24/12, Barnes + Noble, Albany NY.

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Glenn Nichols, surrounded by his hospice team. The author is in yellow.

Genetic Linkage

DNA and Dating: Buyer Beware

September 28, 2014

Tags: DNA, genetic testing, DNA and dating

Is DNA dating destiny?
Last week’s post dealth with three very serious applications of DNA testing. But not all DNA testing is to detect health-threatening conditions.

“Born to Run? Little Ones Get Test for Sports Gene,” ran the headline on the front page of the New York Times, above an arresting image of a preschooler having his mouth swabbed for DNA. It’s from 2008, but remains a classic: I still assign it.

The sports gene company is apparently still around and still testing for variants in just one gene: ACTN3. Two copies of the R577X variant indicate inborn skill at endurance events, and no copies suggest a child stick to sprints. The lucky heterozygotes might excel at both! Never mind that a child has some 20,000 or so other genes affecting physiology.

DISSECTING A DNA DATING WEBSITE
The most damage a sports gene test can do is to keep a child from doing something she loves because of a DNA-obsessed parent. A more questionable application of DNA testing is as part of “relationship science,” something I learned about a few weeks ago when a reporter from healthline.com asked me about it. (more…)

Genetic Testing For All: Is It Eugenics?

September 21, 2014

Tags: genetic testing, eugenics, NIPT, BRCA, carrier testing, DNA

(NHGRI)
In recent weeks, there’s been talk of three types of genetic testing transitioning from targeted populations to the general public: carrier screens for recessive diseases, tests for BRCA cancers, and non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) to spot extra chromosomes in fetuses from DNA in the maternal bloodstream.

Are these efforts the leading edge of a new eugenics movement? It might appear that way, but I think not.

When I began providing genetic counseling 30 years ago at CareNet, a large ob/gyn practice in Schenectady, NY, (more…)

Black Pee Disease Offers New View of Arthritic Joints

September 13, 2014

Tags: arthritis, alkaptonuria, inborn error of metabolism, human genetics

The urine of a person with alkaptonuria turns dark upon standing.
When I read the headline of a recent press release – "A new cause of osteoarthritis identified by research on a rare disease" -- I was drawn to "rare disease," even though I actually have osteoarthritis. And when I read “alkaptonuria," I was catapulted back more than a century to the first description of an "inborn error of metabolism.” (more…)

Medical Success Stories: From Cystic Fibrosis to Diabetes

September 4, 2014

Tags: cystic fibrosis, type 2 diabetes, gastric bypass, Leber congenital amaurosis, gene therapy, A1C, natural history study, adenosine deaminase deficiency, SCID-X1

The many guises of CF.
A skinny little boy, with mocha skin and curly black hair, lived in the apartment building next door when I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s. He didn’t live long enough to go to kindergarten. He had cystic fibrosis.

Today’s tots with CF face a far brighter future. A recent report in the Annals of Internal Medicine applied trends in survival from 2000 to 2010 to project life expectancy for children diagnosed in 2010: 37 years for girls and 40 years for boys. (The difference may reflect hormones or the extra creatinine in the more muscular male of the species.) Factoring in the current rate of treatment improvements gives a soaring median survival of 54 years for women and 58 years for men when those kids grow up! (more…)

How Ebola Kills

August 17, 2014

Tags: Ebola, Liberia, virus, epidemiology, Monrovia

Emmanuel Gokpolu is my African "son," living in the midst of the Ebola crisis in Monrovia, Liberia.
(An updated version of this post appears at my Public Library of Science blog DNA Science.)


“That’s not Ebola!” I said to the vendor standing beside a display of boxer shorts festooned with pathogens, at a National Association of Biology Teachers conference a few years ago.

“No, that’s Ebola. Read the tag.”

“The tag’s wrong. It’s influenza. See the spokes on the surface? Ebola looks like a long soup ladle.”

He didn’t believe me, but the website was corrected a few months later. I still have my faux Ebola shorts somewhere.

JUST 7 GENES
The stark seeming-simplicity of the Ebola virus flashes across my mind whenever I get email from Emmanuel, a medical student in Liberia. My husband and I have been supporting his education since he contacted me in 2007 after reading Human Genetics: Concepts and Applications, my textbook very soon to be published in its 11th edition. The story of our relationship, today between two families, is here, but since then Eman has become a father, naming his son after my husband Larry.

Eman is our son in the African sense, not based on DNA. Escalating panic pervades his emails of the past few days. Right now he has a high fever, headache, and diarrhea, but says it is "only typhoid, not to worry."

The electronic communication with our Liberian friend is odd in the face of the crumbling infrastructure, the abandoned hospitals and schools. He taps on a phone, too terrified to enter an Internet cafe. And I’m mortified that the NBC nightly news placed a lengthy NASCAR crash report before an Ebola update. Eman wants to know why the US didn’t pay attention until the arrival here of two white, American patients. So do I. (more…)

Imprisoned Gene Therapy Pioneer, French Anderson, Launches Website

January 28, 2014

Tags: gene therapy, William French Anderson, NIH, Friends of French Anderson

William French Anderson, MD
In September 1990, William French Anderson, MD, posed with 4-year-old Ashi DeSilva at the NIH clinical center. Days earlier, she’d become the first recipient of gene therapy, a biotechnology that Dr. Anderson and others had been thinking about since Watson and Crick published the structure of DNA in 1953.

On July 29, 2004, Dr. Anderson, then 67, was arrested at his home in San Marino, California, and charged with molesting the daughter of a co-worker. The “inappropriate touching and medical exams” allegedly happened from 1997 to 2001, starting when the girl was ten. He has always maintained his innocence.

Dr. Anderson was tried in June 2006, convicted the next month, and sentenced to 14 years in prison on February 3, 2007. More than 200 scientists, many quite prominent, formed "Friends of French Anderson" and sent detailed letters to the court vouching for his character. But despite appeals, he has been in prison all this time.

Out of options, Dr. Anderson has just unveiled a website, www.wfrenchanderson.org that includes forensic evidence in his defense and other documents. He’s asked me to spread the word. I won’t discuss the evidence or legal details, at least not yet, but I wanted to relate how I came to learn about the case. (more…)

Spring 2014 Talks on "The Forever Fix" and Gene Therapy

August 23, 2013

Tags: gene therapy

After a whirlwind of speaking at teachers' conferences this fall, in the springtime my audience will be high school students. I will be giving 4 keynote addresses for the New York State Student Convocation, for the March of Dimes. The talk is "Gene Therapy: A Forever Fix," which will coincide with a feature article I've written for Scientific American (print), March issue. The talk is based on my book, The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It."

The paperback version has an Instructor's Guide at the end, which is also posted on this website, beneath a handout for a classroom activity I've developed called "Putting a Face on Genetics."

Also check out my series on a clinic for genetic diseases among the Amish and Mennonites at my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science (http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/)

The March of Dimes talks will be held at:

Hyde Park March 18
NYU March 26
Syracuse April 2
Staten Island April 24

I will post more details as I get them, or feel free to email me (rickilewis54@gmail.com)


St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
Memphis, June 2014



My blog is "DNA Science" at Public Library of Science

August 7, 2013

Tags: DNA Science, Ricki Lewis, Public Library of Science, blog

The text you type here will appear directly below the image
Hi everyone! Since last fall I've been blogging for Public Library of Science , at http://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/.

As you can see, I gave up cross-posting here on July 4 because through this site (Author's Guild) I have to type in all the html code, whereas PLOS uses an easy wordpress template. I got lazy. But not about blogging! So check out DNA Science at Public Library of Science. A new post every week, and I'm open to ideas and guest bloggers.

I always try to write about what everyone else misses.

Join me!

When a Disease is Genetic but not Inherited: Bea Rienhoff's Story

July 4, 2013

Tags: exome sequencing, mutation, textbook, human genetics

Hugh and Bea Rienhoff (credit: Leah Fasten)
Genetics is the study of genes, DNA, and variation; heredity is the passing of inherited traits from parents to offspring. Families with one member, typically a child, who has a collection of unusual symptoms that don’t fit any clinical diagnosis may in fact have a genetic disease – but one that arose spontaneously in the child, rather than having been inherited from carrier parents.

Exome sequencing is helping to solve these genetics-but-not-heredity mysteries. The story of one little girl and her father’s efforts to find her mutant gene, and how the tale wove in and out and now back into my human genetics textbook, illustrates the evolution of personalized genomic medicine.

THE BEA PROJECT
When Hugh Rienhoff first saw his daughter Bea, born in December 2003, he knew something was wrong. Her long feet, clenched fingers, poor muscle tone, widely-spaced hazel eyes, and a facial birthmark might have been just peculiarities to anyone who wasn’t also a physician and a geneticist. (more…)

Supreme Court BRCA Decision: Use Correct Terminology!

June 14, 2013

Tags: Supreme Court, BRCA1, BRCA2, gene patents, DNA, composite DNA

(credit: Dept of Energy)
Earlier today, my “in” box began to fill with info from everyone I’ve ever met letting me know that the Supreme Court had ruled on the Myriad case about patenting the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. I also received a dozen pitches from PR people offering me all manner of instant interviews with lawyers, doctors, bioethicists, and health care analysts.

No one offered me an interview with a geneticist – a person who knows something about DNA. So being such a person myself, I decided to take a look at the decision. And I found an error right smack in the opening paragraph: (more…)

Selected Works

blog posts
An annotated table of topics and textbook chapter #s for my DNA Science blog posts at Public Library of Science.
instruction
Project to engage students in helping families with rare genetic diseases
Book Club Reader's Guide
Many challenging questions to stimulate thought and discussion.
Instructor's Guide
38 discussion questions to get students thinking and talking about gene therapy, including the science, ethical issues, and the drug approval process.
Narrative science
The Forever Fix is the uplifting true story of 8-year-old Corey Haas, who was cured of hereditary blindness just 4 days after gene therapy.
College Textbooks
A spectacularly-illustrated, clearly written human anatomy and physiology textbook, used in pre-health profession programs throughout the U.S.
A highly engaging, clearly written, beautifully illustrated introduction to the science of human genetics for the non-scientist. Now in its 10th edition.
Nonfiction
DNA reflects who we are -- but it isn’t the whole story.

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