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Genome Alberta's Official Newsletter
GE3LS Digest - July 7, 2009
To view past issues of the GE3LS Digest or to subscribe to the Digest please go to:
Dr. Michael Hayden Added to the Age of
Personalized Genomics Agenda
Killam Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in Human Genetics and Molecular Medicine, Michael Hayden will be speaking at the Age of Personalized Genomics this September in Banff Alberta. He will join Stephen Scherer from the University of Toronto, and David Flockhart of Indiana University on a panel on the first day to discuss the science behind personalized genomics.
Profits and research: A good mix? Industry has a role to play in advancing science, but it must be balanced – June 18, 2009
Over the past several months the government has been taking steps to reconfigure how research gets funded and done in Alberta. The stated goals of the plan, as summarized in Bill 27, are to make sure that research activities will "meet the research and innovation priorities of the government, including fostering the development and growth of new and existing industries." This sounds like more commercializable research in areas the government deems worthy. Alberta is a world leader in a wide range of research domains--a direct result of entities like the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. The hope is that Bill 27 will make the Alberta research environment even more efficient and effective. Not a bad idea. But the government must be tremendously careful not to erode the characteristics of academic inquiry that make it a uniquely valuable way to produce knowledge.
Canada's $580M in New Grants Include Numerous 'Omics Programs – June 22, 2009
The Canada Foundation for Innovation has granted over C$665 million ($576.8 million) for new grants and infrastructure at dozens of Canadian research institutes, the foundation said last week. The government funding will support a wide range of research, including biomedical and biotechnology studies involving genomics, molecular imaging, proteomics, and other areas. A large portion of the grants went to fund projects in the physical sciences, energy technologies, and other fields. Under the Leading Edge Fund, which enables institutions to add to ongoing initiatives that already won CFI grants, CFI has granted C$248 million to 64 projects. Through the New Initiatives Fund, which supports new areas of research and technology development, CFI has granted C$265 million to 69 projects. The Infrastructure Operating Fund, which is aimed at helping to cover institutions with the incremental and maintenance costs associated new infrastructure, has granted around C$154 million.
Adult stem cells are a promising market: Amid controversies over embryonic stem cell research, drugs using adult cells are already bearing fruit. – June 16, 2009
When it comes to stem cells, the public -- and the media -- tend to focus on embryos. But researchers and analysts say marketable therapies already are emerging from less controversial work with adult stem cells. Adult cells make up the lion's share of the stem cell space, mainly because they are easier to come by than embryonic cells, and less expensive to run in clinical trials. They are also derived from mature tissue, like bone marrow or umbilical cord blood, so they avoid the ethical debate that surrounds embryonic stem cells.To be sure, many researchers consider embryonic stem cells to be more versatile, and they may someday be more useful than adult stem cells in treating diseases. But researchers also hope adult stem cells can help them combat a variety of maladies from diabetes to heart disease. In fact, adult stem cells are currently the only type of stem cells used in transplants to treat diseases, such as cancers like leukemia.
Obama Plans to Replace Bush’s Bioethics Panel – June 17, 2009
Members of the President’s Council on Bioethics were told by the White House last week that their services were no longer needed and were asked to cancel a planned meeting, a council staff member said Wednesday. The council was disbanded because it was designed by the Bush administration to be “a philosophically leaning advisory group” that favored discussion over developing a shared consensus, said Reid Cherlin, a White House press officer. President Obama will appoint a new bioethics commission, one with a new mandate and that “offers practical policy options,” Mr. Cherlin said.
The council was appointed by President George W. Bush in November 2001, in the wake of his decision to let government-financed scientists begin research with human stem cells, but only with existing cell cultures.
Scientists: GMOs are safe: New study advocates fewer restrictions for modified crops – June 17, 2009
Researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences have published their opinion on genetically modified crops in a 95-page "White Book" that has been hailed as the most comprehensive presentation of experimental work done on crops of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country. Spelling out the advantages of such crops, the June 10 study calls for a change in how the risks of produce cultivated in this manner are assessed on the EU level. The idea is to reduce politically motivated debate and to play up the role of scientific evidence in EU decision-making. Though feedback hasn't trickled in yet, a faction of the scientific community quietly opposes the appeal. "This is promotion of GMOs," said Jaroslava Ovesná of the Crop Research Institute, who refused to undersign the book's content.
An Interview with Sandra Soo-Jin Lee on Direct-to-Consumer Genomics and Social Networking – June 23, 2009
Spit in a cup, send it off, and get your genetic profile delivered to your inbox. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is that simple, right? Maybe, but understanding what it means is far more complex, says bioethicist Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, because much of the research on the connections between our DNA and our health remains uncertain. But even if the genome-wide association studies that form the basis for these genetic profiles are imprecise, don’t consumers still have a right to know about their own genes? Should they expect a certain level of validity for information they’re buying? For the moment DTC genetic testing falls, in Lee’s words, in a “regulatory no-man’s land, with little oversight by federal agencies.” And the question remains, do we need health professionals act as gatekeepers and help interpret this new information?
Japan approves first generic biotech drug – June 25, 2009
Japanese regulators approved a human growth hormone from Novartis AG, the first green light in Japan for a biosimilar or generic version of a biotech drug, the Swiss drugmaker said on Thursday.
Biosimilars are viewed as a promising new market, given the pent-up demand for cheaper versions of extremely expensive biotech drugs, some of which are coming to the end of their patent life.
Somatropin, made by Novartis' generics unit Sandoz, is for treatment of growth hormone deficiency in children and growth disturbance associated with Turner's syndrome or chronic renal insufficiency, the group said. The approval is for the same range of diseases as the reference product, Pfizer Inc's Genotropin, Novartis said. The drug is already approved in Europe and the United States as Omnitrope.
Biotech drugs, used to treat everything from cancer to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, tend to be more expensive and complex than traditional chemical medicines because they are made from living cells.
Deadlock broken on international seed sharing – June 25, 2009
Years of deadlock between developed and developing nations on seed sharing have been broken with an agreement to set up a fund to help poor farmers preserve the world's biodiversity.
The fund was agreed during a week-long meeting of the 2004 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture's governing body in Tunis, Tunisia, this month (1–5 June).
The treaty aims to establish a global gene pool to conserve and protect genetic variety in food crops — variety that is being lost as breeding companies flood the market with small numbers of highly selected seeds. Some developing nation-signatories to the treaty had been loathe to share their seeds for fear that they would receive no benefits.
Cheerleader or watchdog? Science journalism is under threat. What can scientists do to help?—June 25, 2009
Science journalism may be under threat but scientists can still help ensure that reporting is informed and accurate, says an editorial in Nature. Some scientists see the media as a public relations service to explain new science, shape public understanding and highlight a blooming research sector to politicians.
But journalism plays a more important role — in scrutinising, not just regurgitating, science — says the editorial. Science journalists in particular often understand the subject they are writing about and know who to contact to provide context and criticism.
What is GE, GMO, and GM food – genetically-modified food war, part 2 – June 26, 2009
Over the past several decades major advancements in biotechnology have excited some, horrified others and have become a global debate. Biotechnology extends to every area of life and so sparks a response on many levels, including philosophic, religious, ethical, medical, scientific, economic, cultural, and certainly sociopolitical. It is a highly technical and deeply complicated issue. Don’t miss the first article in this series: Dole, Monsanto, and the GMO – genetically-modified food war, part 1
New York State Allows Payment for Egg Donations for Research – June 26, 2009
Stem cell researchers in New York can now use public money to pay women who give their eggs for research, a decision that has opened new possibilities for science but raised concern among some bioethicists and opponents of such research. The decision by the Empire State Stem Cell Board, announced two weeks ago, is believed by the board to be the first in the country allowing state research money to be used for this purpose. The board agreed that women can receive up to $10,000 for donating eggs, a painful and sometimes risky process. Until now, researchers have relied on unused embryos from in vitro fertilization, as well as reprogrammed skin cells, for their work. Eggs, which offer other avenues for research, have proved more difficult to obtain.
Your Genes Aren’t Covered for That – July 29, 2009
Last month, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, commonly know as GINA, went into effect, one year after President George W. Bush signed it into law. Millions of us could benefit from the information genetic testing reveals, and GINA aimed to assuage patients’ fears that a genetic test might come back to haunt us by prohibiting the use of that information to deny health insurance coverage or a job. Unfortunately, despite GINA’s important step forward, Americans’ already heightened job security and health care anxieties have intensified in the past year, during this economic downturn. Despite the significant protections offered by GINA, hailed at its passage as “the first civil rights legislation of the 21st century,” there are no comforting answers to such key questions as: If my genetic test reveals that I need preventive care or early treatment, who will pay for that care? If my health is at risk and I want to protect myself, could my genetic information be used to deny me life insurance, long-term care insurance, or disability insurance? Most patients today undergo genetic testing to learn their health risks, but economic risks also loom large.
Genetically engineered mice yield clues to 'knocking out' cancer – July 1, 2009
Deleting two genes in mice responsible for repairing DNA strands damaged by oxidation leads to several types of tumors, providing additional evidence that such stress contributes to the development of cancer. That's the conclusion of a recent study in DNA Repair by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Oregon Health and Science University and the New York University School of Medicine.
Bioethicists Call For Heightened Oversight of Genetic Ancestry Testing – July 2, 2009
More guidance and oversight are needed to make sure that genetic ancestry tests are carried out ethically and accurately, according to a policy paper appearing online today in Science. A team of bioethics and anthropology researchers from Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin, New York University, and the University of Wisconsin argued that a sound public policy should be developed around existing genetic ancestry testing recommendations — such as those issued by the American Society for Human Genetics at its annual meeting last fall.
"The ASHG statement identifies key issues surrounding the science of ancestry estimation and represents an important first step," lead author Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, a researcher at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, and her co-authors noted. "However, an effective public policy for the growing market of genetic ancestry tests must build on the ASHG's recommendations and must generate specific mechanisms and approaches."
GMO corn: France rejects report by EU food agency – July 3, 2009
France on Friday rejected a report by the European Union's food safety watchdog that said a controversial strain of genetically-modified corn was safe. In a joint statement, the French ecology and agriculture ministries said the Italy-based European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had failed to take into account requests to change the way it evaluated the risk. "The conclusions of the council of European environment ministers must be respected," the statement said, referring to a December 4, 2008 decision, approved unanimously, that had called on the agency to overhaul its assessment methods.
France and five other EU members -- Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg -- have suspended sowing of Monsanto's MON810 maize, invoking safeguard clauses on the grounds of potential environmental hazard. On Tuesday, EFSA's GMO panel declared that the product was safe both for health and the environment. A gene inserted into the maize that makes it pest-resistant "does not raise any safety concern, and ... sufficient evidence for the stability of the genetic modification was provided," the panel said.
Controversial Cancer Stem Cells Offer New Direction For Treatment – July 6, 2009
In a review in Science, a University of Rochester Medical Center researcher sorts out the controversy and promise around a dangerous subtype of cancer cells, known as cancer stem cells, which seem capable of resisting many modern treatments. The article proposes that this subpopulation of malignant cells may one day provide an important avenue for controlling cancer, especially if new treatments that target the cancer stem cell are developed and combined with traditional chemotherapy and/or radiation.
"The fact that these concepts are steadily making their way into the clinic is exciting, and suggests that the recent interest in cancer stem cells may yield beneficial outcomes in potentially unexpected ways," wrote co-authors Craig T. Jordan, Ph.D., professor of Medicine at URMC and director of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center Translational Research for Hematologic Malignancies program; and Jeffrey Rosen, Ph.D., the C.C. Bell Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
The Unexplored Potential of Organic-Biotech Production – June 2009
The organic movement rejects biotechnology as inherently contradictory to its fundamental goal of promoting environmental protection in agriculture. European organic promoters in particular stress respect for nature over yield maximization, campaigning for a return to traditional production methods and inputs.  In reality, the divide between organics and biotechnology is an artificial construction maintained by ideology rather than science. A governmental decision to change organic regulations to permit the use of biotechnology could have far-reaching policy implications for global agriculture. Allowing producers to gain organic certification for biotech crops could encourage the development of a new type of environmentally sustainable agricultural production with greater benefits for the consumer.
Responses to Online GSTM1 Genetic Test Results among Smokers Related to Patients with Lung Cancer: A Pilot Study – June 25, 3009
Providing smokers with personal genetic test results indicating increased lung cancer risk may increase uptake of effective smoking cessation services. Using the internet may increase reach and enable real-time assessment of how people process genetic risk information away from the clinic setting. We therefore explored smokers' responses to Web-delivered GSTM1 genetic test results indicating higher or lower lung cancer risk. Participants were smokers (n = 44) biologically related to patients with newly diagnosed lung cancer. Measures were assessed at baseline, before and immediately after receipt of online genetic test results, and at 6-month follow-up.
5th International DNA Sampling Conference: The Age of Personalized Genomics
September 16-19, 2009
Early Registration Now Open!
ABIC 2009: Agricultural Biotechnology for Better Living and a Clean Environment
September 23-25, 2009
The American Society for Human Genetics – 59th Annual Meeting
October 20-24, 2009
Beyond the Embryo: Transnational, Transdisciplinary and Translational Perspectives on Stem Cell Research
November 14-15, 2009
Francis Collins "upbeat" about impact of common disease genetics – June 16, 2009
Emily Singer has been doing a great job of covering the consumer genetics beat over at Technology Review; her most recent piece draws on a recent presentation by former head of the National Human Genome Research Institute Francis Collins. Collins caused a bit of a stir during his presentation (at last week's Consumer Genetics Show in Boston) by announcing that he had signed up for several personal genomics services under a false name. His conclusions: Collins said that sequence-wise, the tests "appear to be highly accurate": there were almost no differences in the genotype information generated in the three different analyses. But there were significant differences in the numbers of genetic variations used to calculate disease risk, as well as the final risk score. For example, one company used 5 single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, to calculate risk for a particular disease, pronouncing Collins at low risk. Another used 10 SNPs, placing him at high risk, and the third used 15, concluding that he is at average risk. Collins also said that the analyses provided little information on his "carrier status," meaning whether he carried genetic risk factors that didn't influence his own risk of disease but could be passed down to future generations.