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

Genetic Linkage

Anticipation

February 25, 2012

Tags: rare diseases, rare disease day, spinocerebellar ataxia type 2, SCA2, SCA1, fragile X syndrome, expanding triplet repeat, genetic testing, ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, myotonic dystrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Carly Simon, Anticipation, X chromosome, ALS, mutation, Ricki Lewis, The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It

Jordan and Hailey Kohl. Spinocerebellar ataxia type 2 affects several members of their family, including Jordan.
“Anticipation .. is keepin’ me waitin’,” sings Carly Simon in her song made famous in a ketchup commercial. But “anticipation” in the genetic sense is just the opposite of Carly’s croon – it means a disease that begins earlier with each generation.

Doctors once blamed patients for anticipation, as if people with sick older relatives could worry themselves into suffering similarly. Then, in 1991, discovery of a new type of mutation explained the curious worsening of fragile X syndrome: an expanding triplet repeat. (more…)

The Y Chromosome: Size Matters

February 22, 2012

Tags: Y chromosome, David Page, Jennifer A. Marshall-Graves, Jennifer Hughes, X chromosome, Ricki Lewis, Human Genetics: Concepts and Applications

The human Y chromosome
Let me get this straight: The human Y chromosome has barely changed from that of a rhesus macaque, a monkey from whom we parted ways some 25 million years ago, and that’s good news? I suppose compared to disappearing, it is.

For several editions now, my human genetics textbook has run an “In Their Own Words” essay in which MIT’s David Page, protector of the Y, has defended the measly male chromosome against charges from Jennifer A. Marshall-Graves, of Australian National University, that it is disappearing. She helpfully points out in my book, “You can lack a Y and not be dead, just female,” then goes on to call the Y “a pathetic little chromosome that has few genes interposed with lots of junk.” (more…)

Older Dads Have More Mutations

February 21, 2012

Tags: sperm, advanced maternal age, paternal age effect, amniocentesis, Pfeiffer syndrome, Apert syndrome, Crouzon syndrome, USC, American Journal of Human Genetics, PLoS Genetics, Down syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia, Costello syndrome, Trig Palin, Bella Santorum, trisomy 18, Edwards syndrome

As a genetic counselor, I hate telling a woman over 35 that she’s of “advanced maternal age,” which raises the risk of conceiving a child who has an extra chromosome. Now older men are in the reproductive spotlight too.

Since the nineteenth century, physicians have noted that Down syndrome babies tend to be the (more…)

My New View of DTC Genetic Testing

February 15, 2012

Tags: direct-to-consumer genetic testing, BRCA1, breast cancer, 23andMe, Ricki Lewis, Alden March Bioethics Institute, Myriad Genetics, gene patenting, Ashkenazi Jews, genetic counseling, spit test, Parkinson's disease, National Institutes of Health, More Magazine

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“Are you still collecting stories about DTC testing? I've got one for you!” my grad student L.W. e-mailed a few days ago. Little did I know her family's experience would change my mind about direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

L.W. had taken my online course “Genethics” in 2008 for the master’s program at the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College. (more…)

Gene Therapy Changes the Brain

February 8, 2012

Tags: gene therapy, LCA2, Corey Haas, Jean Bennett, Ricki Lewis, CHOP, University of Pennsylvania, The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It, Foundation Fighting Blindness, Leber congenital amaurosis, retinitis pigmentosa, second gene therapy, Science Translational Medicine, fMRI

It doesn't take a brain scientist to see that the visual cortex of this formerly-blind woman lights up -- after gene therapy.
It isn’t often that a brain scan chokes me up, but this one did. The fMRI shows area 17 of the visual cortex coming to life in a woman born with Leber congenital amaurosis type 2 (LCA2). She’s part of the very same gene therapy clinical trial chronicled in my upcoming book The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It. The symbolic boy is Corey Haas, who, four days after gene therapy in 2008 at age 8, screamed when he saw the sun at the Philadelphia zoo, his shadow world suddenly brightened. (more…)

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
An ideal starting point for anyone who wants to know more about genes, DNA, genomes, and the genetic ties that bind us all.

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