Tag Archives: advance

Top 5 Science Achievements of 2016

2016 was an odd one lets be honest. All sorts of crazy shenanigans occurred. Although some may view 2016 as one of the worst years on record, it was a great year for science! Lets take a look at some of the most exciting developments of 2016.

Science is a multi-disciplinary field but as a neuroscientist I am a biology snob so have taken a (massive) lean towards breakthroughs in the general field of biology.

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#1 CRISPR gene-editing trial in ‘humans’

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CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Inter spaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The natural CRISPR system is a form of prokaryotic immune defence that protects bacteria from foreign genetic elements. The system has been cleverly modified to function as a powerful gene editing tool – allowing specific genes to be added or removed from a genome. It is described as more efficient , precise and flexible than current gene editing technologies.

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The tool has been proposed for use in the farming industry to modify various crop attributes – the technology received the AAA’s choice of ‘breakthrough of the year 2015’.

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The technology could also hold massive therapeutic potential in the treatment of genetic human diseases however in many cases this would require germ-line manipulation (changes that can be passed on to children) of humans, something which has never before been done and comes with myriad ethical and moral concerns.

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CRISPR moved one step closer to a true human trial as a University of Pennsylvania study received ethical approval from the US government’s Recombinant DNA advisory committee.

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Although a small study, it will focus on manipulating T cells with CRISPR in an attempt to remove cancerous attributes. This is mainly being used as a trial to see if CRISPR would be safe in humans. If it is, then in the near future expect to see CRISPR technology used to combat cancer and a multitude of other genetic based diseases.

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This could potentially see the greatest progress in treating human disease since the discovery of anti-biotics!

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#2 Cloning

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Proof that you can clone ‘sexy’

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Not all clones have the widely cited ‘accelerated aging’ problem as seen with the most well known clone of all – Dolly the sheep. This is the conclusion of a recent study. What many people don’t know is that Dolly herself was also cloned leading to four healthy Dolly-clones.  Dolly had degenerative osteoarthritis but her clones only showed very mild symptoms of this disease. These clones have aged and developed fairly  normally so it is possible to clone animals with no clear health issues seen in the ‘offspring’.

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Although human cloning will likely always remain illegal (probably for the best) this breakthrough proves that the technology of somatic cell nuclear transfer, although possessing a very low success rate, can produce a ‘healthy’ clone that ages normally. Whether or not cloning techniques could be applied to the farming industry remains up for debate.

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#3 Robo-surgeon

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A robot has carried out the first autonomous surgery on soft tissue. This surgery was performed on four pigs and involved the stitching together of two parts of the intestines. All four animals recovered with no complications. Although the robot takes longer than human surgeons, the robot it said to be more precise.

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Robot assisted surgery has been around for a good while now but this route into truly autonomous surgical robots is rather exciting and could free up surgeons from basic routine surgeries to focus on the more difficult procedures. Next time you go in for a bit of casual bowel surgery you might find C3-P0 all up in your shit. Literally.

Check out a video of the robot in action!

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#4 ‘Universal’ flu vaccine 

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Traditional flu vaccines have to be crafted every year in accordance with the constant antigenic shifting and mutation of the flu virus. This is why some years the vaccine seems especially effective and other years doesn’t perform as well – it’s a different vaccine to a different sub-type of flu.

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Scientists now believe we can target a different part of the flu virus – a part which ALL flu viruses share. In theory this would allow the development of one vaccine which could target multiple sub types of the virus and may be usable year on year. However, the flu virus is a shifty bastard and is constantly evolving – so whether this proves effective in reality remains to be seen.

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#5 Stem cells boost stroke recovery

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Stem cells are the key to us.  In our very early development we were nothing but a minuscule bundle of stem cells. From this bundle has formed a large multi-cellular, complex organism with countless different types of cells with wildly differing functions. Put very simply (as the full tale is beyond the scope of this article) a stem cell is sort of a ‘generic’ cell which has the potential to become any cell type in the human body.

So many cell types just from ONE type of stem cell!

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Their proposed use in therapy and disease treatment has therefore been on the cards for decades. One of the most logical ways in which they could be used is to replace damaged tissues. The initial idea was that if stem cells are introduced to an area in the body they will begin to ‘mimic’ surrounding tissue by turning from stem cells into the local cell type – they know what cell to turn into based on local cell signalling from resident cells. Recently, a study, with truly remarkable results,has highlighted once again the therapeutic potential of stem cells.

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The risk of stroke, brain cell death due to lack of blood, is greatly increased in smokers, those with high blood pressure,  the obese and diabetics . Stroke deaths number in the millions every year. Although strokes are survivable (any extremely varied), only about a half of stroke victims will still be living following the event. A group from the Stanford University of Medicine injected modified human stem cells directly into the brains of chronic stroke patients. The results were remarkable with all patients showing healing for an extended period of time, far longer than usually expected following a stroke. One of the most usual observations here was that a number of wheelechair-bound patients (due to stroke induced brain damage) were gradually able to walk freely again! incredible!

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If this doesn’t show the potential applications and therapeutic potential of human stem cells, I don’t know what does. Check out the full report in more detail here.

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Well there you have it! My top 5 pick.

Here’s to hoping 2017 produces even more scientific advancements that can improve our lives for the better.