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September 5, 2017


Welcome to the Genomics in Society Digest

Genomics in Society: Genomics and its related Ethical, Economic, Environmental, Legal and Social aspects.
This news digest is published by Genomics in Society at Genome Alberta. Feel free to forward to your colleagues.

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White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like what they find

There is a trend among white nationalists to use ancestry testing services to prove their racial identity. Problem is the results are not always what they expect or want. Two sociologists examined years’ worth of posts on the white nationalist website Stormfront to see how they dealt with the facts that didn’t match their worldview. With help from the University of California, Los Angeles, they analyzed 12 million posts and came up with some interesting results on how users rationalized the discrepancy.
Source: STAT News

Salmon farmers adapt to climate change with help from a $4.4M collaboration

Within the next 25 years Atlantic Canada’s $400m salmon aquaculture industry could be gone because of rising water temperatures. A new collaboration between biologists at University of Waterloo, Memorial University and the Universities of Guelph and Prince Edward Island could help the industry adapt. The project “Mitigating the Impact of Climate-Related Challenges on Salmon Aquaculture,” or MICCSA, is led by Memorial University and funded by Cooke Aquaculture, Novartis, Somru BioScience and the Centre for Aquaculture Technologies.
Source: University of Waterloo

Couple stranded after medical emergency

Jeff Long was diagnosed with ALS in 2014 and degenerative Lyme disease in 2015. Their doctor suggested they try an embryonic stem cell treatment only approved in Mexico. He came down with pneumonia their and had to transfer to a hospital in San Diego. He’s still sick and now he can’t afford to get back to Atlanta.
Source: NBC Atlanta

Is science broken? Or is it self-correcting?

“Science is broken” says the writer of this piece and science journalist need to be prepared to say so. Flawed or fraudulent studies do happen and more often than not, other researchers are able to find the problems and eventually the science ship is righted. ‘Eventually’ being the keyword however, because a lot of time and effort can be exerted trying to replicate studies and finding the problem.
Source: Slate

Getting around the genetics bottleneck

There are numerous strains of cannabis available on the legal and on the unregulated markets, but relatively few varieties make it on to Health Canada’s acceptable list of medicinal cannabis. As more producers start up to satisfy the growing demand and the even greater demand ahead when marijuana become legal there is concern about where plants and seeds will come from.
Source: Lift News

To protect genetic privacy encrypt your DNA

To be clinically or scientifically useful your genetic data needs to be complete and that creates privacy concerns and patients worry that their genetic data could be used against them. Stripping out much of the data can eliminate identifying details, but that makes the information of little or no value. Why not cloak the data?
You can go straight to the full paper Deriving genomic diagnoses without revealing patient genomes if you have AAAS access.
Source: Wired Magazine

Do we need a Hippocratic oath for academics?

If the number of publications on an academic’s CV is important then it might not come as a surprise that there is some skullduggery afoot to get one’s name included as an author. Even what counts as ‘authorship’ means different things in different fields. The author (yes, she is the author!) of this piece says senior academics who bully their name on to research papers should not be tolerated.
Source: Times Higher Education

LISTEN: The promise & peril of synthetic biology

Andrew Hessel left Canada many years ago and now lives in the San Francisco Bay area where he is an Autodesk Distinguished Researcher working on the rapid design and manufacture of synthetic viruses as cancer therapies. He is also one of the people driving the Genome Project-write which is working towards ‘writing’ DNA and building human genomes from scratch. In this 75 minute podcast he discusses the development of synthetic biology and its upsides and downsides.
Source: After On podcast

US biomedical-research facilities unprepared for attacks and natural disasters

A Houston-area chemical plant that lost power after tropical storm Harvey flooded the area was rocked by fires and two explosions. So far there seems to be no immediate danger from the fumes but it drives home a point made in a recent report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It recommends that steps be taken to protect biomedical research from disasters whether natural or man-made. One size won’t fit all, but the report does offer ten steps that can be taken by researchers, institutions and funding organizations.
Source: Nature

FDA crackdown on stem cell clinics

Our Digest has featured many stories on stem cell clinics offering dubious and sometime dangerous treatments. The issue is not going away and recently has even gained momentum as reports surfaced about patients left with lasting damage after stem cell treatment.

Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it is taking action against clinics that are using unproven therapies or making claims that cannot be supported. The LA Times called it an “opening salvo” in a story that described the seizure of a smallpox vaccine that was to be mixed with stem cells and injected into patients’ malignant tumours. Ars Technica summed it up well in its headline “Dubious stem cell clinic got hold of smallpox vaccine. FDA just took it away. The Minneapolis Star Tribune is one newspaper that still has a reporter on the medical beat who offered a good summary of the FDA announcement and the issue. The NY Times has been covering the developing issue for some time now and also has a good overview of the business of stem cell treatments. U.S. clinics have tended to get the most headlines recently but other countries are having similar problems. 6 people were arrested in Japan for using umbilical cord blood to treat cancer and as a beauty treatment

Leigh Turner is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics and his recent articles and papers have gone a long way to promote the problems associated with the hype around stem cell treatments. One area of particular concern for Turner are so-called “pay to participate” studies. Not everyone agrees with his concerns, and this past week he responded in a RegMedNet article. Turner isn’t alone in his crusade though. Paul Knoepfler has also been on the case and AAAS Science has written about how he has risen to become an “industry watchdog”.

There are legitimate stem cell therapies however and as we were close to hitting send on our newsletter this media release came across our desk followed by a CBC story on the first FDA approval of a gene therapy in United States.

Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

Doubts raised on key points of Nature paper on CRISPR gene editing of human embryos

It made headlines in mainstream news and was the buzz of the science media. Is it possible that the change made to a human embryo using CRISPR technology did not happen as was outlined in the original Nature 548, 413–419 August 24 paper?
Source: The Niche

Gene editing might mean my brother would’ve never existed

The author of this op-ed piece had a brother named Jason who suffers from muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, severe nearsightedness, hydrocephalus and intellectual disability. If CRISPR technology been able to head off those problems, who would Jason be? Would he be the Jason his family knew and cared for?
Source: Time Magazine

Papers & Features Up arrow

Are stem cells the link between bacteria and cancer?

Sigal, M., et al. Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/nature23642

Gastric carcinoma is one of the most common causes of cancer-related deaths, primarily because most patients present at an advanced stage of the disease. The main cause of this cancer is the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which chronically infects around half of all humans. However, unlike tumour viruses, bacteria do not deposit transforming genes in their host cells and how they are able to cause cancer has so far remained a mystery. An interdisciplinary research team at the Max Planck Institute in Berlin in collaboration with researchers in Stanford, California, has now discovered that the bacterium sends stem cell renewal in the stomach into overdrive – and stem cell turnover has been suspected by many scientists to play a role in the development of cancer.
Source: Max-Planck Institute and you can see the original paper in Nature

A long journey to reproducible results

Lithgow, G., Nature (2017) doi:10.1038/548387a 548, 387–388 August 24, 2017

Researchers Gordon J. Lithgow, Monica Driscoll and Patrick Phillips found that describing how their research was done is important to any reproduction of the results.
Source: Nature

Do you order pharmacogenetic testing? Why?

Goldberg, J., J Clin Psychiatry (2017) https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.17ac11813

The first question of whether pharmacogenetic testing should be ordered, arises with increasing frequency at psychiatric conferences and in discussions among peers. The second question, why to order it, is posed less often.
Source: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (open access)

Improved diagnostic yield compared with targeted gene sequencing panels suggests a role for whole-genome sequencing as a first-tier genetic test

Lionel A., Genetics in Medicine (2017) doi:10.1038/gim.2017.119

Over the last decade, advances in high-throughput sequencing technologies have had a considerable impact on clinical genetic testing. Whole-genome sequencing provides a comprehensive testing platform that has the potential to streamline genetic assessments, but there are limited comparative data to guide its clinical use. The paper suggests that primary clinical tests using WGS provides a higher diagnostic yield than conventional genetic testing.

The study was funded by the Centre for Genetic Medicine, The Centre for Applied Genomics, The Hospital for Sick Children, Genome Canada, and the University of Toronto McLaughlin Centre.
Source: Genetics in Medicine

Events Up arrow

Visit Genome Alberta's extensive Events Calendar on our website at GenomeAlberta.ca. Connect With Us to sign up for our newsletters and see the Calendar of Events.

TechStock Driving Change - Social Impact through Innovation

TechStock explores how technology and social innovations are making an impact on our society and driving change in areas such as sustainability, health, education and more. There will be a speaker panel on Creating Impact through Innovation starting at 1:00p followed by the tech exhibition featuring 45+ local companies demonstrating their technology or social innovation products and ideas. Techstock is part of Beakerhead week so you can bet there will be some surprised for you. And food trucks!

When: September 14th from 1:00 – 6:30
Where: Alastair Ross Technology Centre, 3553 31 Street NW in Calgary (the building immediately east of our Genome Alberta office).

To get an idea of what you will see throughout the day, visit the Innovate Calgary website.

Agriculture Bioscience International Conference

Hosted by the Life Science Association of Manitoba and the Government of Manitoba, this year's ABIC Conference is set up to provide three days of guest speakers, student research presentations, exhibitors and networking opportunities for attendees.

A few of the topics to be presented:
  • Quality versus Quantity and the Implication to Food Security
  • Nutrigenomics / Nutrigenetics – How our DNA will shape our diets in the Future
  • Smart Farms - The Link between Biotechnology and Enhanced Nutrition
When: September 25 - 28, 2017
Where: Delta Winnipeg Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

More details on the program, accommodations and registration can be found here.

American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting

The 67th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics is the largest human genetics meeting and exposition in the world. This year’s meeting is expected to attract over 6,500 scientific attendees, plus almost 250 exhibiting companies. The meeting provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of cutting-edge science in all areas of human genetics.

When: October 17 - 21, 2017
Where: Orange County Convention Center, Orlando Florida

More info & registration is available at the meeting website.

SPARK 2017

Registration is now open for SPARK 2017, a clean technology/bioindustrial conference being co-hosted this fall by Emissions Reduction Alberta and Alberta Innovates. The event will provide an opportunity for innovators and researchers to connect with others in their field, and with purchasers, funders, innovation advisers, and industry groups and associations.

SPARK 2017 is expected to attract 400 or more attendees from the oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, clean technology and bioindustrial sectors. Conference sessions will cover a range of topics, including how Alberta is advancing technology through policy and regulation, how other jurisdictions have succeeded in advancing this area, innovators who have successfully accessed funding and what they learned, what the market is demanding today, and next-gen products and technologies.

When: November 6 - 8, 2017
Where: Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton

4th Annual Canadian Conference on Epigenetics: Mechanisms of Disease

This symposium is intended to bring together a critical mass of epigenetics researchers, along with key international leaders in the field, to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue on recent advancements in the field of epigenomics with a focus on the impact of epigenetic mechanisms in human disease.

Travel awards are available for research trainees, medical students, and knowledge dissemination experts. Please see www.epigenomes.ca/events for more information.

When: November 26 - 29, 2017
Where: The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, British Columbia

Registration is now open and there is still time to submit your presentation ideas and abstracts.

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