2018 was very cool for science. From a woman who gave birth with a transplanted uterus, to the infamous scandal with CRISPR children and forensic science using genealogical tests to track down criminals - last year we didn’t stop wondering where the scientific path led us. CRISPR is still heading the headlines, but let's see what else we can expect in 2019 from medicine and biotechnology.
Here are stories from science and medicine thatmay explode with fireworks this year. But first we recall the obvious: it is very difficult to predict the future. Forecasting is a favorite child of statistics and intuition. But January is a great time to look into the crystal ball of the coming year. Last year, we predicted widespread acceptance of gene therapy products - and for the most part guessed. This year there will be several forecasts.
Using gene drives
The concept of gene drives scares many. And not without reason. Gene drives are a major step forward in serious work with genes, even when compared to CRISPR and other gene editing tools. Even when editing germ genes, when the sperm, egg cell or embryo changes, gene editing affects only one genetic line - one family - at least in the beginning, before it multiplies into the general population.
But gene drives, on the other hand, are capable of destroying whole species.
In short, these are tiny pieces of DNA code,that help pass a gene from a parent to a child with an almost 100 percent ideal probability. Have you heard the rule: half of your genes taken from your father, half from your mother? Gene drives spat at him.
In other words, the only time that you canIt would consider the possibility of using gene drive - this is a change in the genetic composition of the entire population. It looks like the plot of the film about supervillains, but scientists have already planned to test these methods - first on mosquitoes, and then on rodents.
Having released just a few mutant mosquitoes,that carry infertility gene drives, for example, scientists could potentially destroy entire populations that carry infectious diseases like malaria, dengue fever or Zika. The technology is so powerful and dangerous that DARPA has allocated $ 65 million to research how to deploy, control, counteract, or even reverse the effects of such environmental impacts.
Last year, the US cautiously made it clear that thistechnology will be deployed. Currently, the first release of a genetically modified mosquito is being prepared for testing in Burkina Faso in Africa - the world's first field experiment using gene drives.
As part of the experiment, onlyAnopheles mosquitoes, which are major carriers of disease. More than 10,000 males of such mosquitoes will be released into the wild. They are genetically sterile, but do not cause infertility, and will help scientists examine how they survive and disperse, in preparation for releasing other mosquitoes.
Non-profit consortium Target Malaria,supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it is developing a gene drive called Mosq, which will spread infertility among the mosquito population or destroy all female insects. He is trying to break the rules of inheritance - and save millions of people - and will begin the experiment in 2024.
Universal Flu Vaccine
People often shrug off the flu as a source of irritation, but this infection kills hundreds of thousands of people a year.
The flu virus is actually just as difficulttreatable like HIV — it mutates at a very high rate, making it impossible to develop an effective vaccine. Scientists are currently using data to predict strains that may erupt into an epidemic, and urge the public to vaccinate against these strains. This is partly due to the fact that, on average, flu vaccines are successful in 50% of cases - toss a coin, eagle or tails.
Charter rely on guesswork, scientists abandonedideas for a universal flu vaccine designed for all strains - even those that have not yet been identified. These vaccines attempt to alert our immune system about parts of the influenza virus that are least variable from strain to strain.
In November last year, the first universalThe vaccine against influenza, developed by BiondVax, entered the third phase of clinical trials. This means that it has already proven its safety and efficacy in small quantities and is currently being tested on a wider population. This vaccine is not based on dead viruses, as usual. It uses a chain of amino acids - the chemical components that make up proteins - to stimulate the immune system to be on high alert.
Perhaps this is the year the area of universal vaccines is waiting for a breakthrough.
Editing genes in the body
CRISPR and other gene editing toolsfilled the headlines last year. What's next? Gene editing experiments right in the body. Last September, Sangamo Therapeutics from Richmond, California, revealed that he introduced gene-editing enzymes to a patient in the hope of correcting a genetic deficiency that does not allow him to break down complex sugars.
These efforts are markedly different from the more well known.CAR-T therapy, which removes cells from the body for genetic engineering, before returning them to their hosts. The Sangamo method directly introduces viruses carrying the edited genes into the body. So far, the procedure seems safe, but it is too early to determine its effectiveness.
This year, the company hopes to finally answer whether it works or not.
If successful, it will be known thatdestructive genetic disorders can potentially be cured with just a few injections. With a variety of new and more accurate gene editing tools, the list of treatable hereditary diseases is likely to grow. And with the scandal around CRISPR-kids editing the genes in the body, it is likely that more tracks will be opened if the results of Sangamo are positive.
Neuralink and other neurocomputer interfaces
Neuralink is fantastic, in a way: tiny particles implanted in the brain can connect your biological software with silicon equipment and the Internet.
However, it is this company Ilona Mask,founded in 2016, seeks to develop: neurocomputer interfaces that can be connected to your nerve circuits for treating diseases or even improving your abilities.
Last November, Musk broke the silence of a secret company, saying that he would tell something “interesting” in a couple of months.
Aspiration Mask to achieve symbiosis withartificial intelligence is not the driving force for all neurocomputer interfaces (NCI). In clinics, the main stimulus is the rehabilitation of patients - who suffer from paralysis, memory loss or other nerve damage.
2019 may be the year when NCI andNeuromodulators will become ubiquitous in clinics and get rid of wires. These devices may finally work autonomously in a faulty brain, using electrical stimulation only when it is necessary to reduce side effects and not requiring external monitoring. Or they could allow scientists to control the brain with light, without the need for bulky optical fibers.
Opinion futurologists: GMO-revolution
Vladimir Kishinev, Ph.D., coordinator of the Russian Association of Futurologists, shared his expert opinion:
“There is only one short answer: our civilization, in spite of all the difficulties, difficulties and problems, is on the verge of a GMO revolution. And this, of course, is not about transgenic food, but about entering into the era of managing human biology.
It's pretty simple: human biology is far from perfect, the evolution that has created us is not a good designer. The results are, unfortunately, well known and one of them is the thousands of people who torment the ailments, from minor ailments to fatal diseases.
In the fight against them, modern medicine pills andscalpels, achieved obvious success. But it is also obvious that its possibilities are limited and existing methods can never achieve the only acceptable result that suits us - a complete cure for all diseases.
At the same time to solve this, it seems todayutopia, the task is quite possible. Known facts say, Today it is obvious that any living creature a person can suffer only those diseases that his biology allows. Man genetically can not, for example, ill with swine fever, and animals are not biologically capable of suffering from many human diseases.
Today, it is clear that dramatically cure andin general, to prevent HIV infection from occurring, in general, the occurrence of any disease, not only of an infectious nature, can only be controlled by controlling the biological properties of the organism at the genetic and cellular level.
The ability to change not only embryonic cells,but also trillions of cells of already living, adult people ... Such biomedicine is capable of the unthinkable today - to provide people with what seems incredible today - permanent and absolute health will give biomedicine capable. This new medicine will be a little like modern, but immeasurably more effective. The first scientific steps in its creation are already obvious. The possibilities of such intervention in the work of the organism will not only allow successfully curing illnesses, but preventing them from occurring at all. This is a completely different level. ”
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