A Single Cell Shines New Light on How Cancers Develop

It was just a tiny speck, a single cell that researchers had marked with a fluorescent green dye. But it was the very first cell of what would grow to be a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Never before had researchers captured a cancer so early.

The cell was not a cancer yet. But its state was surprising: It was a cell that had reverted to an embryonic form, when it could have developed into any cell type. As it began to divide, cancer genes took over and the single primitive cell barreled forward into a massive tumor.

Those were the findings of Dr. Leonard Zon of Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Charles K. Kaufman, and their colleagues, in a study published Thursday in the journal Science that offers new insight into how cancers may develop. The researchers stumbled on that first cell of amelanoma when they set out to solve a puzzle that has baffled cancer investigators: Why do many cells that have cancer genes never turn cancerous?

Link to full article on NYT

New Tests for Zika in the Works

To answer questions about the risks of Zika virus infection, researchers need better diagnostics.

As reports of Zika virus infections continue to spread through the Americas, countless questions loom. Chief among them is about the relationship between infection during pregnancy and microcephaly in babies, which has been difficult to pin down given the limitations of current diagnostics. A number of researchers are working at breakneck speed to develop immunological reagents and assays that could confirm whether a person has had a Zika infection.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to give some answers to the clinicians relatively soon,” said Nikos Vasilakis, who is developing Zika tests at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

Currently, the standard assay for Zika viral infection is a PCR test that probes for the presence of viral RNA in a sample. While it works well to detect the virus, the pathogen’s RNA is only around for a short period of time. “By the time [patients] make it into the clinic, the virus is likely gone or it’s at the tail end, beyond the limit of detection,” said Vasilakis.


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To Fight Growing Threat From Germs, Scientists Try Old-Fashioned Killer

Bacteriophages, little-used for decades in the U.S. and much of Europe, are gaining new attention because of resistance to antibiotics


NANTES, France—A hospital nurse soaked a bandage in a colorless liquid containing viruses drawn from a toxic sewer in Paris, a well in Mali and a filthy river in India. Then she daubed it gently on an elderly woman’s severely burned back.

“It’s healing,” said Ronan Le Floch, the doctor overseeing the burned woman’s care. The painful wound’s greenish tinge, the telltale sign of a potentially deadly bacterial infection, had vanished.

The liquid treatment was a cocktail of about one billion viruses called bacteriophages, which are the natural-born killers of bacteria. Little known among doctors in the West, phages have been part of the antibacteria arsenal in countries of the former Soviet Union for decades.

Doctors in the U.S. and much of Europe stopped using phages to fight bacteria when penicillin and other antibiotics were introduced in the 1940s. Now, though, Western scientists are turning back to this Stalin-era cure to help curb the dramatic growth of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.


Link to full article on WSJ

Cambridge Biomedical announces that Tim Smith has been appointed Chief Financial Officer, effective Feb 1st, 2016.

Cambridge Biomedical announces that Tim Smith has been appointed Chief Financial Officer reporting to Brad Yount, President and Chief Operating Officer, effective Feb 1st, 2016.

“Tim has extensive experience in bringing operational improvements and financial acumen to developing companies. I have worked with Tim in previous organizations and have tremendous confidence that he will help to further strengthen Cambridge Biomedical’s capabilities” said Brad Yount, President and Chief Operating Officer Officer.

Smith will assume responsibility for financial operations in Cambridge Biomedical and is focused on improving operational efficiencies within the company as it positions itself for continuing double-digit growth.

“Cambridge Biomedical’s strength in bioanalytical assays and diagnostic testing is well known in the industry” Smith commented “and I am excited by this opportunity to help develop the infrastructure within the company with its team of highly experienced staff through its next phase of growth”

Prior to this appointment, Smith was responsible for the the financial operations of several different companies in Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Europe. Mr. Smith received a BS in Management from Susquehanna University and an MBA from Lehigh University and is also a certified CPA.

About Cambridge Biomedical

Cambridge Biomedical, based in Boston, Massachusetts, supports sponsors by developing customized assays for small and large molecules, biomarkers, and other critical analytes, along with validation and sample testing in our CLIA certified and CAP accredited, GLP/GCLP compliant facilities,

The Company has extensive expertise in technology transfer, assay development, optimization and validation. It also offers specific services in analytical support for PK/PD studies, biomarker development, clinical assay development, assay validation, specimen analysis, and testing services in support of clinical trial and drug or device development.

Our personalized project methodology, along with a focus on delivering quality results and regulatory submission ready documentation and rapid turnaround times, ensures we meet our client’s product development timelines.

Instead of Computer Code, ‘Plant Hackers’ Tinker With Genetics

Do-it-yourself bioengineers tinker with genetic code; blue roses


After his parents go to bed, Sebastian Cocioba usually retires to the third bedroom of the family apartment, where he has built a laboratory.

Suntory ‘Applause’
Suntory ‘Applause’

There, amid the whir of climate-controlling fans and equipment harvested from eBay, he is working on what he hopes will one day become a lucrative career. Mr. Cocioba, 25 years old, is a plant hacker.

“I want to make flowers no one has ever seen,” he says, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a recent day at his home in Queens, N.Y. “What would happen if you combined features of a pine tree with an eggplant?” He also wants to turn a rose blue.

Born into an earlier generation, Mr. Cocioba might have spent hours writing computer programs. Instead he is at the vanguard of a millennial niche: do-it-yourself bioengineering. In place of a keyboard, he has a homemade “gene gun” that fires genetic material into plants on a blast of tiny tungsten particles.


Link to full article at WSJ

It’s time to rethink how we identify disease-causing microbes

Modern disease theory must account for communities of commensal bacteria.


At the turn of the last century, German physician Heinrich Koch identified four critical criteria for determining whether or not a particular microbe causes a disease. The ideas behind them were crucial for advancing medicine and formalizing the germ theory of disease. Over the last century, these postulates have been updated as medicine has advanced.

In what may end up being the most recent of these updates, biologists Allyson Byrd and Julia Segre propose some adjustments to these classic medical postulates intended to bring them in line with analytic techniques based on DNA sequencing and the most current understanding of bacterial communities. Just as the previous updates to Koch’s postulates did, these proposed amendments incorporate cutting-edge scientific knowledge and add nuance to our understanding of the causes of disease.

Koch’s original postulates are that, if a microorganism causes a disease, then:

  1. For every single case of the disease, the microorganism will be present.
  2. Healthy people will not carry the microorganism—if they did, they would be sick.
  3. The microorganism can be isolated and cultured in a lab, then used to infect new people.
  4. The microorganism can be re-isolated from a person who was experimentally infected.

Link to full article at ArsTechnica

Breakthrough in human cell transformation could revolutionise regenerative medicine

A breakthrough in the transformation of human cells by an international team led by researchers at the University of Bristol could open the door to a new range of treatments for a variety of medical conditions. Their paper, published today in Nature Genetics, demonstrates the creation of a system that predicts how to create any human cell type from another cell type directly, without the need for experimental trial and error.

Julian Gough, professor of bioinformatics at the University of Bristol, said: ‘The barrier to progress in this field is the very limited types of cells scientists are able to produce. Our system, Mogrify, is a bioinformatics resource that will allow experimental biologists to bypass the need to create stem cells.’

Pluripotent stem cells – or cells that have not yet ‘decided’ what to become – can be used to treat many different and diseases. The first human artificial were created by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka in 2007, through a process of educated trial and error that took a long time. In the nine years since, scientists have only been able to discover further conversions for a handful of times.


Link to article at Medical Xpress

Questions Remain as to What Caused the Bial Trial Tragedy in France

CHICAGO — Days after a Phase I clinical trial studying an experimental fatty acid amide hydrolase inhibitor being developed by Portugal-based Bial-Portela left one patient dead and five others hospitalized in France, there are still numerous unanswered questions, but perhaps most importantly—what went wrong?

FAAH inhibitors are designed to break down endocannabinoids, including anandamide, in the brain and are being investigated for use in the treatment of chronic pain. These molecules activate cannabinoid receptors—the same ones that bind THC, the key component of cannabis, report in Science magazine said. Bial’s BIA 10-2474, the drug tested in the French facility, is designed to inhibit FAAH, and thus slow the breakdown of endogenous cannabinoids, which might help fight pain, the magazine said.


Link to full story at BioSpace

Swallowing this smart nano pill could stop us from making diet mistakes

It’s not always talked about in polite company, but your body produces a lot of gases scientists know little about.

A new smart pill, designed at Melbourne’s RMIT University, could help us learn more and may eventually assist in customising what we eat to suit our bodies.

Researchers from the Centre for Advanced Electronics and Sensors have developed the pill, which can measure intestinal gases, and they have now undertaken the first animal tests using the technology to examine the impact of fibre on the gut.

RMIT professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, whose previous work has included pollution-detecting sensors, told Mashable Australia the development could tell us more about issues linked to intestinal gases, including colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.


Link to full article on Mashable

Big names gamble big bucks on blood tests for early cancer detection

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, others raise $100 million for tests expected by 2019.


Forget biopsies, ultrasounds, mammograms, pap smears, rectal exams, and other unpleasant cancer screenings—the race is now on for simple, affordable blood tests that can detect all sorts of cancers extremely early.

On Sunday, genetic sequencing company Illumina Inc. announced the start of a new company called Grail, which will join dozens of companies developing such blood tests. Toting big-name investors including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Illumina’s high-profile startup raised more than $100 million to get Grail going. The company hopes that Grail’s tests will be on the market by 2019 and cost around $500 a pop.

Link to article on ArsTechnica