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November 2, 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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The Navajo Nation might lift a longstanding ban on genetic research

15 years ago the Navajo Nation banned genetic research on its members “until such a time that a Navajo Nation Health Research Code has been amended and approved by the Navajo Nation Council”. That is now considering lifting the ban as it prepares to open a new oncology center next year.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine

A more personal view of human-gene regulation

The GTex project is one step forward in the effort to examine gene expression and gene regulation in all the major tissues in the human body across many people. It has built a database and tissue bank for scientists to use in the study of the relationship between genetic variation and gene expression in human tissues.
Source: Nature News

U of T biologists discover an epigenetic key to unlock behavioural change in fruit flies

Nature versus Nurture is no longer viewed as a cut and dried pattern and we know it is a complex interaction. How the two interact however is much less clear but University of Toronto researchers have offered some new insight according to U of T News. The research team studied the foraging behaviour of fruit flies and recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), and the Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program
Source: University of Toronto News

Canada urgently needs diversity in science, tech, engineering and math: report

More workshops, science camps, or education won’t get more women into a career in science, technology, mathematics, or engineering. What is needed is a change in the culture or “bro mentality”.
Source: CBC and Ryerson University

Trump has taken longer to name a science adviser than any modern president

President Trump has taken longer than any modern president to name a science adviser, according to an analysis from The Washington Post. Without a nominee in place let along the time it would take for Senate confirmation don’t expect to see anyone in place in the foreseeable future.
Source: Washington Post

A woman went blind after stem cells were injected in her eyes

Last year a woman used a crowd funding campaign to pay for stem cell treatment to help her macular degeneration. It was not an FDA approved treatment and the 77 year old woman is now blind.
Source: The Atlantic

Stem cells, regulation, and the unknown: How do we know what to trust?

Unsubstantiated stem cell therapies or stem cell clinics that actually do harm (see the previous story) pose a threat to the credibility of all stem cell treatments and research. Regulation is certainly part of the answer as long as it does not get in the way of legitimate efforts. It is equally important that there be some consistency across political and geographic jurisdictions to slow down ‘stem cell tourism’.
Source: Global Bioethics Initiative

How to spend $1,900 on gene tests without learning a thing

Geneticist Eric Topol called the public face of genetics as a “jungle” full of misunderstanding, privacy concerns, and bias. The direct-to-consumer genetics industry is becoming even more confusing with apps that promise to help you find the ideal diet, fitness program, or wine. It is an industry that has grown big enough (and perhaps silly enough) to even become the target of late night comedy programs.
Source: MIT Technology Review

Stopping the spread of anti-vax myths: There’s no quick fix

In the wake of the latest retraction of a paper linking autism to vaccinations, there is relief it has been pulled, and fear that the it has left behind some damage. This op-ed piece by Tim Caulfield suggests that a small core of anti-vaxers can still have a broad influence. You should also take the time to read the Comments section after the article. Give the intense feelings vaccine related stories tend to provoke, it is a surprisingly mixed collection of views.
Source: Globe & Mail

Despite notable failures, cancer vaccines are poised for a leap onto the market: expert

We’ll stick with vaccines for one more story. We could see licensed cancer vaccines in the next two to three years, say one oncology expert.
Source: Fierce Pharma

Creative minds: Using machine learning to understand genome function

A feature on Anshul Kundaje who has combined biology with his first love of computing and telecommunications.
Source: NIH Director’s Blog

When hope runs out, cancer patients are making their own DIY immunotherapy treatments

People who rare or fatal diseases and who are running out of options or time to explore those options often turn to anything that offers some hope. It may be unproven therapies offered by dubious clinics or it may be a do-it-yourself home treatment. There are risks, so how can you give patients the opportunity to take control of their health without doing more harm?
Source: Gizmodo
Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

CRISPR Bacon: Chinese scientists create genetically modified low-fat pigs

You have to love the headline on this story about low-fat pigs created by Chinese scientists. It is an interesting development with good potential but don’t expect to see any of it in your local grocery in the foreseeable future.
Source: NPR

Searching for the gene-editing off-switch

CRISPR is revolutionary, but some scientists are anti-CRISPR. Ironically, their work will actually help improve the gene-editing tool.
Source: Research2Reality

Designer babies in the age of CRISPR

Many stories about CRISPR seem to end up with the ‘designer babies’ phrase attached to the article somewhere. Maybe because the idea of ‘gene editing’ seems to point in that direction or anything that is about genetic modification play on cultural fears. Real or not, there are ethical questions to be addressed.
Source: McGill Tribune

Papers & Features Up arrow

Lay Americans’ views of why scientists disagree with each other

Johnson, B., and Dieckmann, N., Public Understanding of Science (2017) DOI: 10.1177/0963662517738408

Scientific positivism and judgments of science’s credibility were the strongest predictors of latent class membership, controlling for scientific reasoning, political ideology, confidence in choice, scenario, education, gender, age, and ethnicity. The lack of distinction observed overall between different explanations, as well as within classes, raises challenges for further research on explanations of scientific disputes people find credible and why.
Source: Public Understanding of Science

The continuing evolution of ethical standards for genomic sequencing in clinical care: restoring patient choice

Wolf, S. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics (2017) DOI: 10.1177/1073110517737531

ACMG policy does not protect the respect for patient choice that prevails in other domains of clinical medicine, where informed consent allows patients to opt in to desired testing. By creating an expanding domain of genomic testing that will be routinely conducted unless patients reject the entire set of extra tests, ACMG creates an exceptional domain clinical practice that is not supported by ethics or science.
Source: The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics

Beneficial and detrimental effects of genetic explanations for addiction

Lebowitz, M., Appelbaum, P. International Journal of Social Psychiatry (2017) DOI: 10.1177/0020764017737573

Addictions are highly stigmatized and increasingly construed as biomedical diseases caused by genes, partly to reduce stigma by deflecting blame. However, genetic explanations may have negative effects, which have been understudied in the context of addiction. How the effects of genetic explanations might differ for substance addictions versus behavioral addictions is also unknown.
Source: International Journal of Social Psychiatry

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.

11th International Gender Summit

The Gender Summits are a series of interconnected, action-based events held across the globe since 2011. They follow the theme of “Quality Research and Innovation through Equality.” Their aim is to make gender equality in research and innovation the norm and to embed gender equality as a primary dimension of quality.

The agenda promises stimulating discussions on themes like the benefits of pluralism, Canada and its commitments to supporting diversity, diversity in an international context, diversity and leadership, perspectives from academia, society and grassroots approaches, and many more.

Members from industry, academia, research organizations, businesses, education, and other groups interested in gender equality issues are invited to follow the discussions and participate in the dialogue emerging from the Gender Summit North America 2017.

When: November 6 - 8, 2017
Where: Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, Montreal, Quebec

For more information, visit the GS11 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

Gairdner Symposium on Precision Medicine & Microbiome

Genome Alberta is pleased to be one of the sponsors for the Gairdner Symposium on Precision Medicine and the Microbiome. The symposium will feature world-renowned academic, researchers and industrial experts, including Dr. Lee Hood, Dr. Martin Blaser, Dr. Kevin Maloy, Dr. Gwen Randolph and Dr. Henrique Veiga-Fernandes.

The focus will be on precision medicine and the role of the microbiome in host immune cell development and function during health and disease including during infections, inflammation, and chronic disease. The opening of the Western Canadian Microbiome Centre (WCMC) will be announced during the event and you are invited to drop by the Genome Alberta display to learn more about our involvement in microbiome research.

When: November 9-10, 2017
Where: Foothills Campus, University of Calgary.

More information is available on the Gairdner website and at WCMC.

Eugenics: The (Un)Ethical Trump Card?

The Galton Institute is a learned society concerned with the scientific study of all aspects of human heredity. These include molecular genetics, genetic medicine, genetic epidemiology, population genetics and population dynamics, demographics, human evolution, elements of psychology and the statistical analysis of inherited traits.

Our annual conference this year is on Sir Francis Galton’s Legacy. Dr. Bartha Knoppers is presenting "Eugenics: The (Un)Ethical Trump Card?".

Join her at the Galton Conference.

When: 15 November 2017
Where: The Royal Society, London England.

Registration is free, and is required. Register here.

Conference agenda (PDF)

AEN Bioinformatics & Computational Biology Workshop

The Alberta Epigenetics Network, in partnership with Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences, is organizing a workshop at the University of Calgary to provide researchers and industry partners a platform to share current knowledge & trends, expertise, resources, and challenges in the areas of computational biology, bioinformatics, and Artificial Intelligence.

When: November 24th
Where: University of Calgary, PF-126

Registration is free but you must register by November 10th.

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