instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Genetic Linkage

Will 2020 see the debut of promising gene therapy for hemophilia A? It’s up to the FDA.

The clotting disorder hemophilia A may become the third gene therapy that the US Food and Drug Administration approves, joining treatments for a form of retinal blindness in 2017, and spinal muscular atrophy in 2019.

 

Biomarin Pharmaceutical Inc. has submitted a biologics license application to FDA and documentation of clinical trial results to the European Medicines Agency, with reviews slated to begin early this year at both organizations.

 

An article in the January 2 New England Journal of Medicine from a UK research team presents the findings of a phase 3 analysis of continuing success of a phase 1/2 trial (instead of a new phase 3 trial). The hemophilia gene therapy – called valoctocogene roxaparvovec for now – can mean a one-time infusion that replaces the more than 100-150 infusions of clotting factor a patient takes each year, and can also alleviate the painful joint bleeding that is the hallmark of the disease.

 

To continue reading, go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

Be the first to comment

Novels ‘All About Evie’ and ‘The Family Upstairs’ illustrate how DNA tests can reveal ‘dark secrets’, from rape to unknown siblings

I recently read two works of fiction, "All About Evie" and "The Family Upstairs," that touch on the issue of defining family. The plots inadvertently echo current concerns over the possible fallout from unexpected consumer DNA ancestry testing results.

 

Each book is a multi-generational saga blooming with secrets and surprises. But one novel uses DNA testing to reveal relationships and the other doesn't.

 

My unplanned reading of one after the other served as a metaphor of sorts for the fallout from receiving a DNA surprise. The ending of the book based on the DNA test was abrupt and seemed contrived, much as discovering an insta-family can be. The ending of the book that slowly uncovered secrets as relatives recognized each other and connected was satisfying and rang true.

 

To continue reading, go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

Be the first to comment

How Breast Cancer Reunited Six High School Friends

Four of the six of us from my high school inner circle have had breast cancer over the past two years. And that has me wondering.

 

Did a shared environmental exposure, stamped onto our shared Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, during that critical period in our lives set the stage for cancer decades later? The timing and cancer subtypes suggest to me, the biologist in the group, that the answer could be yes. But I'm flummoxed.

 

An Illustrious High School

 

The long walk to James Madison High School began every weekday morning with me. I'd pick up my neighbor Amy, then Randy two blocks over, then across the street and a few steps to Wendy. We'd turn right onto Quentin Road to meet Tobie, then dip into East 18th Street, to get Bess in her rambling Victorian that was to the rest of us, from smaller homes and apartments, a mansion. It was the epicenter of the best parties.

 

We began tenth grade at Madison shortly after Woodstock and graduated as the class of 1972. Famous alumni include Carole King, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judge Judy Scheindlin, Martin Landau, and Chris Rock (See "How One 'Ordinary' Brooklyn High School Produced Six Nobel Laureates, a Supreme Court Justice, and Three Senators." )

 

To read more, go to DNA Science, where this post first appeared. 

Be the first to comment

Will New Knowledge of Gender Identity Genomics Counter Discrimination?

If legislation being developed by State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, (R-Powder Springs, Georgia) goes forward, a physician who provides surgery or hormones to assist a transgender individual age 18 or under in transitioning will be committing a felony. This treatment addresses gender dysphoria, which is the significant distress or inability to function when the gender assigned at birth (natal male or female) doesn't match the gender that a person feels.

 

Representative Ehrhart's press release introducing the "Vulnerable Child Protection Act" emphasizes that the proposed measures do not apply to adults. Her words are harsh: "This is about children who are being abused by adults. The sterilization and castration of children has no place in a civilized society." She got the idea, according to media reports, from the case in Texas of a 7-year-old whose mother supports the child's claiming to be female and the father opposes it. Sen. Ted Cruz called the child "a pawn in a left-wing political agenda." Because gender dysphoria isn't even diagnosed until puberty, the mutilation scenario seems an exaggeration.

 

The practice that Rep. Ehrhart refers to is more eloquently and accurately known as "gender affirming therapy," and includes hormone suppression that is already used to treat other conditions. At the Texas child's age, it might just mean allowing her to wear what she wants as a team of medical specialists evaluates the case. Several health organizations have published guidelines on therapy; here's one.

If the language in the press release is an indication of the coming legislation, then the rhetoric implies that gender dysphoria and even transgender identity do not exist.

 

To continue reading, go to DNA Science, where this post first appeared.

Be the first to comment

‘CRISPR this, CRISPR that’: Is our fascination with the popular gene-editing tool distracting us from the potential of gene-silencing RNAi technology?

CRISPR, it seems, is everywhere.

 

Google "crisper" and "Did you mean crispr?" shoots back.

 

The film Rampage brought a giant, CRISPRed wolf, ape and gator. In real life a year ago, renegade researcher He Jiankui announced CRISPRing human twins at fertilization and then vanished, an unpublished manuscript just now surfacing at MIT Tech Review. He's now in jail.

 

CRISPR is the subject of Netflix's Unnatural Selection and the upcoming documentary Human Nature.

 

CRISPR this, CRISPR that.

 

But drugs based on CRISPR are just entering clinical trials. Nevertheless, NPR breathlessly announces its "exclusive access" to the story of Victoria Gray, a woman receiving cells CRISPRed outside her body and then infused to treat her sickle cell disease. One patient, at the start of a trial.

 

Yet on November 20, the FDA approved the second drug based on RNA interference (RNAi) technology. I didn't see much mainstream media coverage.

 

To continue reading, go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

Be the first to comment

FDA Approvals in 2019 Reflect Eclectic Ways to Treat Genetic Disease

It was a good year for new treatments for genetic diseases! Of the 44 FDA approvals of new drugs, 8 were for 6 single-gene diseases: DMD, beta thalassemia, cystic fibrosis, a form of amyloidosis, and two each for sickle cell disease and porphyria.

 

The eight approvals showcase the diverse therapeutic strategies that are finally leaping from clinical trial to clinical reality. That's important. DNA, RNA, and protein-based treatments face an especially high bar because of the perceived permanence of a correction at these levels  of genetic information.

 

Slowing of disease progression or improvement in one or two symptoms are signs of success, but it might take time for some molecular corrections to translate into fading symptoms. That's why the multi-pronged strategies are critical.

 

If a gene therapy isn't leading to rapid or obvious improvement in a child with a brain or muscle disease, then perhaps RNAi, antisense therapy, or enzyme replacement therapy will. Better yet, instead of testing the technologies in tandem, do it in parallel.

 

I hope that this past year's progress isn't lost in the hype over gene editing in general, and CRISPR in particular. The media sometimes paints an unrealistic portrait of looming miracle cures and breakthroughs, which I analyzed last week here. New medical treatments are based on science, and that takes time – typically, three decades.

 

Here's a look at a handful of new treatments for genetic diseases approved in 2019, and how they work.

 

To continue reading, go to my DNA Science blog at Public Library of Science, where this post first appeared.

Be the first to comment

5,700-Year-Old Lola, Her Genome Sequenced from Gum, Joins Other Named Forebears

About 5,700 years ago in southern Denmark, a woman enjoyed a meal of hazelnuts and duck, then chewed gum made from the boiled, tar-like gunk of birch bark. Pieces of DNA extracted from the ancient gum and overlapped to reconstruct her genome reveal that she had dark brown hair, dark skin, and blue eyes.

 

Her discoverers named her Lola, perhaps in honor of the eponymous Kinks song: "I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said, 'Lola.'"

 

Researchers from the University of Denmark and elsewhere published the findings in Nature Communications

 

Lola lived on the island of Lolland, east of Rødbyhavn in southern Denmark, where today an 11-mile-long tunnel is being dug to link to the German island of Fehrmarn. Archaeologists from the Museum Lolland-Falster are at the site, the largest from the Stone Age in Denmark. It's called Syltholm, and Lola, technically, the "syltholm individual."

 

To continue reading, go to my blog DNA Science, where this post first appeared.

Be the first to comment