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December 16, 2016


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 search is on for a Chief Science Advisor

Way back in May Canada’s Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan penned an op-ed which said that she had spent several months studying how to structure the role of a Chief Science Advisor for Canada. At the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa in November she reiterated her desire to create the position and promised we would hear soon. At last, we are pleased to say, the search is on and it has generated some buzz in and around Canada’s science community. Here is the video of the Minister’s announcement on December 5th.

Like any job posting the government has laid out specific requirements, roles, and duties. Among other things you’ll need a doctoral degree, research experience, skills in public science communication, knowledge of how government works, and preferably be bilingual. You’ll also have to live in Ottawa.

The role will be an advisory one and will be required to brief cabinet when needed. That could be an awkward position to be in if the briefing doesn’t fit existing policy, but there are signs that the role will be permanent and protected by legislation.

Interested in applying? Brush up your CV and off you go.

As DNA’s secrets are revealed, genetic counsellors interpret results

There are only for master’s program in genetic counselling in Canada and it is harder to get into one of the programs than it is to get into medical school. With the advances in the genomics sciences and the increased use of genetic testing, however, the supply can’t keep up with the demand.
Source: Maclean’s

New diabetes treatment could eliminate need for insulin injections

Clinicial trials are still a couple of year away but a new treatment for diabetes has showed promise in mice. Insulin is release as required by the body thanks to a capsule of genetically engineered cells implanted under the skin. There implants would have to be replaced 3 times a year but should be safer and more efficient than injections.
Source: The Guardian

Genetics expert says there's a 'deficiency' of diversity in cancer research

In this video from the Washington Post Dr. Robert Nussbaum, Chief Medical Officer of Invitae, says the involvement of people who are not of European background in genetics research has been much more limited and has therefore given a less accurate picture of some genetic conditions.
Source: Washington Post

Canada’s next big economic pitch: to feed a hungry world

As Canada tries to diversity away from an oil and gas economy, agriculture is a niche the country is well positioned to move on. It is as much about farming technology as it is about genomics to help the industry deal with climate change, and this article says it take political will and industry action.
Source: Globe & Mail

Americans don't trust scientists' take on food issues

We’ve heard before and the latest PEW Research Center study just reinforces it – science doesn’t really matter when it comes to attitudes about genetically modified foods. Views on food related issues are not neatly divided into readily identifiable demographics either according to the study.
Source: NPR

Union deal reached allowing government scientists to directly share research with media

The union which represents many Federal public servants including scientists, has reached a tentative contract giving its members the right to share their research with the media without being designated as an official spokesperson.
Source: CBC

Why are scientists shooting stem cells into space?

The stem cells went up to the International Space Station in July, and like everything that goes up, they have come back down to earth. They came back more “stemmy”.
Source: AAAS Science

Bayer investing in Toronto-based stem-cell research company

The largest ever initial round of venture capital funding for a biotech company in Canada will set up BlueRock Therapeutics in Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District. The Bayer healthcare group will set up the a joint venture with U.S. life sciences venture capital firm Versant Ventures to invest US$225 million in BlueRock. The company will initially concentrate on cardiovascular diseases.
Source: Globe & Mail

LISTEN: Drug resistant "superbug" gene found on pig farm

Carbapenems, are considered a last resort antibiotic used against drug-resistant infections in hospitalized patients. Researchers have stumbled on a bacteria that is resistant to this important class of antibiotics. It was found on a pig farm in the U.S. and no one is quite sure how it got there.
Source: Quirks & Quarks

Look out guys, genetic testing may reveal a lot about you

Tom Keenan is a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary, and author of the bestselling book, Technocreep. He also says that 2016 was when the human genome went mainstream.
Source: Calgary Herald

New President for the Global Bioethics Initiative

Dr. Bruce Gelb, M.D., F.A.C.S, has been appointed as President of the Board of Directors for the Global Bioethics Initiative. Dr. Gelb is an Assistant Professor of Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, School of Medicine, and the Surgical Director of Renal Transplantation of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. The Global Bioethics Initiative is a non-profit organization founded in 2011 to foster public awareness and understanding of bioethical issues, and to explore bioethical challenges.
Source: GBI
Feature: Gene Editing News Up arrow

How the CRISPR patent dispute became so heated

It is now in the hands of the courts, but before the CRISPR fight, these were the patents that kicked off the DNA-editing gold rush. Spoiler alert – It started with frogs.
Source: The Atlantic

What the CRISPR patent dispute is all about

What is tougher to decipher? Molecular biology or Patent Law. You might want to put your money on the law.
Source: Scientific American

Keeping CRISPR in check

In bacteriophage genomes, researchers find three anti-CRISPR proteins that naturally inhibit CRISPR-Cas9 in one bacterial species and can do the same in human cells.
Source: The Scientist

Papers & Features Up arrow

Ten years of the Genomics of Common Diseases: “The end of the beginning”

Haley, C (2016) Genome Biology DOI: 10.1186/s13059-016-1125-7

The 10th anniversary ‘Genomics of Common Diseases’ meeting was held in Baltimore, September 25-28, 2016. Professor Chris Haley reports from the meeting on progress and challenges in the field.
Source: Genome Biology

When one diagnosis is not enough

Boycott, K, Innes, AM, (2016) New England Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1056/NEJMe1614384

An accurate diagnosis is essential for effective medical management, but it is difficult to diagnose a genetic illness. Clinical assessments and conventional genetic testing lead to a diagnosis in less than half of patients. This editorial tries to shed some light on the problem.
Source: New England Journal of Medicine

Does lack of “Genetic-Relative Family Health History” represent a potentially avoidable health disparity for adoptees?

May, T, Strong K, Zusevics, K, et al (2016) American Journal of Bioethics, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2016.1240255

One common health challenge faced by adoptees involves lack of access to genetic-relative family health history (GRFHx). Lack of GRFHx represents a disadvantage due to a reduced capacity to identify diseases and recommend appropriate screening for conditions for which the adopted person may be at increased risk. In this article, we draw out common features of traditionally understood “health disparities” in order to identify analogous features in the context of adoptees’ lack of GRFHx.
Source: American Journal of Bioethics

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.

Precision Medicine World Conference

Recognized as a vital cornerstone for all constituents of the health care and biotechnology community, PMWC provides an exceptional forum for the exchange of information about the latest advances in technology (e.g. DNA sequencing technology), in clinical implementation (e.g. cancer and beyond), research, and in all aspects related to the regulatory and reimbursement sectors.

When: January 23-25, 2017
Where: Computer History Museum, Silicon Valley California

Conference details and registration

Festival of Genomics

The Festival of Genomics London brings together academia, biopharma and healthcare to explore the power of the genome in driving R&D and the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
  • Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE will offer insights into the company’s exceptional genomic data set and its implications for PMI
  • MHRA CEO Ian Hudson’s has insights into the development and regulation of precision medicine and companion diagnostics
  • You’ll get a glimpse into the Qatar Genome Program - a large-scale, high impact project that’s just completed its pilot phase
When: January 31 and February 1, 2017
Where: ExCeL London, Royal Victoria Dock, London England

More information and details on how to register can be found here.

Agricultural Institute of Canada - AIC 2017

The Agriculture Institute of Canada, AIC, is presenting a Conference to be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba in April of 2017. This year's topic will be "Agricultural Innovation in a Changing Environment". Agriculture and the environment are intricately linked within a complex ecosystem, with agriculture both depending on and impacting critical natural resources. Canada’s agriculture sector is an important steward of the environment and has an important role to play in meeting today’s global sustainability and climate-smart goals.

When: April 24 - 26, 2017
Where: Delta Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Further information and details on registration can be found here.

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