The CRISPR Gene-Editing Tool is Finally Being Used on Humans

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Immune cells attacking a tumor. (Image: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)

A team of scientists in China has become the first to treat a human patient with the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. While the results of the trial are uncertain, it’s a historic milestone that should serve as a serious wakeup call to the rest of the world.

A research team led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University delivered modified immune cells into a patient suffering from an aggressive form of lung cancer. The scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 to make the cells more resilient in the presence of cancer, marking the first time that the powerful gene-editing tool was used to treat a human.

The study was limited to one patient in order to test the safety of CRISPR. Given the encouraging results, another 10 patients will be treated as part of an ongoing clinical trial being conducted at the West China Hospital in Chengdu.

Genetically modified cells have been transplanted into humans before, but the use of CRISPR is significant in that it’s the most efficient, powerful, and easy-to-use system currently available. The news that CRISPR has finally been used on a human patient is bound to attract the attention of scientists elsewhere, and accelerate the race to get gene-edited cells into clinics. As University of Pennsylvania immunotherapy professor Carl June told Nature News, “I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States, which is important since competition usually improves the end product.”

To treat the patient with metastatic lung cancer, Lu’s team removed immune cells from his blood, and then “knocked-out” a gene using CRISPR-cas9. The unwanted gene codes for a protein that interrupts a cell’s immune response—a genetic quirk that cancer exploits to spread itself even further. The modified cells were then cultured to create a large batch, and injected back into the patient. It’s hoped that the edited cells will attack and defeat the cancer, and Lu says the initial treatment went well.

The US is a bit behind China in this area, reflecting the contrast between China’s unwavering enthusiasm for biotechnology and America’s trepidation when it comes to such work. In 2015, a different team in China became the first to genetically modify a human embryo using CRISPR. Scientists and bioethicists in the United States took notice, approving a number of baby-step guidelines that should put America on a similar path. The latest breakthrough by Lu and his team will likely motivate similar efforts in the US and elsewhere. And indeed, there are already plans in the US to start clinical trials using CRISPR to treat bladder, prostate, and renal-cell cancers, though none of these trials have been approved, nor do they have adequate funding.

[Nature News]

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Scientists think that Einstein’s concept of space-time is fundamental, but this theorist says otherwise

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Brian Greene is the co-founder of the World Science Festival, which has a new initiative called “City of Science” which is a 5-event series. All events will take place in one of New York City’s five boroughs throughout this fall.

“City of Science” is free and open to all New Yorkers of all ages. Learn more about where and when it will take place here. You can also follow the events on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Google AI experiments help you appreciate neural networks

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Sure, you may know that neural networks are spicing up your photos and translating languages, but what if you want a better appreciation of how they function? Google can help. It just launched an AI Experiments site that puts machine learning to work in a direct (and often entertaining) way. The highlight by far is Giorgio Cam — put an object in front of your phone or PC camera and the AI will rattle off a quick rhyme based on what it thinks it’s seeing. It’s surprisingly accurate, fast and occasionally chuckle-worthy.

Other experiments are worth checking out, although you may need to compile the code or watch to get a feel for them. Quick, Draw! is effectively AI Pictionary; Infinite Drum Machine gathers sounds by similarity, and lets you sequence them into simple tracks; Bird Sounds uses neural networking to arrange and visualize calls based on their qualities (say, shrill versus melodic). Sadly, one of the most promising, Thing Translator, isn’t usable unless you download the source code and build it yourself.

Thankfully, the list is likely to get larger. Google is taking submissions, and it’s fairly open-minded as to how contributors design their projects. If enough people step up to the plate, AI Experiments could be the go-to place for anyone wanting a primer on what machine learning can do.

Source: AI Experiments

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suitX’s modular exoskeleton can prevent work-related injuries

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suitX, a robotics company out of University of California, Berkeley’s Human Engineering Lab, launched an exoskeleton that can help people walk again earlier this year. Now, the company has officially launched another product: one that can prevent people from needing that exoskeleton in the first place. suitX’s latest product is called MAX, or Modular Agile eXoskeleton, and it supports a person’s body parts prone to getting injured while doing heavy physical work.

The modular suit is composed of three modules: one supports the back, another supports the shoulders, while the third one supports the legs. Businesses can buy each one separately, and workers can wear just one or any combination of the three. The company envisions it preventing injuries in people working in construction, airports, assembly lines, shipbuilding, warehouses, delivery services and factories. Researchers from UC Berkeley conducted a study to find out how effective the back module actually is, for instance, and found that it reduced muscle activity in the lower back by 60 percent.

While businesses are obviously MAX’s main audience, you might find it interesting to know that the company says it’s quite affordable. According to suitX founder, Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni:

"We have created responsive and affordable technologies to augment workers’ strength while leaving the worker in control of the operation. MAX is designed to support workers during the repetitive tasks that most frequently cause injury. It’s not only lifting 75 pounds that can hurt your back; it is also lifting 20 pounds repeatedly throughout the day that will lead to injury."

Source: suitX

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Here’s Three Magic Tricks You Can Easily Learn to Do with a Coin

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It’s more fun to believe in a world where magic can possibly exist but then you see a different camera angle of a cool magic trick and realize it’s all just misdirection, tricks, and fantastic finger dexterity. But still it’s worth it just for that brief moment where you absolutely have no idea how the magician did that. Here’s Oscar Owen teasing you with three tricks you can do with a coin—making a coin teleport, disappear, and switch hands—and then crushing you as he explains how he pulls it off (it can be as simple as pushing the coin off the table).

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