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Genetic technology moving from lab to medical practices

Now it's doctors' turn to learn how to use genetic testing

By Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

Posted: May 22, 2010

In January, practicing doctors and doctors-to-be entered a new class at the Medical College of Wisconsin with a futuristic name, "Translational Genetics." The idea was simpler than it sounded: We are fast approaching the time when doctors will use our genetic profiles to treat us.

One of the students was Kevin Regner, a practicing kidney doctor at Froedtert Hospital, who had been hearing for years, "Personalized medicine is just around the corner." Doctors will tailor treatments to each patient's genes and the risks they reveal. It will all be routine.

Regner had doubts. Sequencing of the first human genome in 2003 took more than a decade and cost about $600 million - an effort too herculean to assume doctors would repeat it with patients and insurance companies would foot the bill anytime soon.

But Regner was in for a surprise. As he and his classmates listened, Howard Jacob, head of the college's Human and Molecular Genetics Center, described what has happened since completion of the genome project. He showed two photos: a machine that helped sequence the first human genome in 2003, and then a machine the Medical College has today. The new model does the work of 200 of the old ones; it can sequence a human genome in a few months for several hundred thousand dollars.

And the Medical College has already ordered next-generation sequencers. Within less than a decade, a complete genetic blueprint could be attainable in 15 minutes for as little as $100.

Moreover, in a case that suggests the technology is beginning the journey from research to medical practice, Jacob described how he and his colleagues used a targeted version of gene-sequencing to diagnose and treat an apparently new disease in a young boy at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

In the audience, Regner had a moment of recognition. "It's likely we'll see this kind of personalized medicine in my lifetime," he said, "and in the course of my medical practice."

Full story.

Air Force Treating Wounds With Lasers and Nanotech

•By Katie Drummond •May 5, 2010

Scientists create human embryonic stem cells with enhanced pluripotency

Scientists create human embryonic stem cells with enhanced pluripotency

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 3, 2010) – Whitehead Institute researchers have converted established human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and human embryonic stem (ES) cells to a base state of greater pluripotency.

"This is a previously unknown pluripotent state in human cells," says Jacob Hanna, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Whitehead Member Rudolf Jaenisch. "It's the first time these cell types have approached the flexibility found in mouse ES cells."

ES cells and iPS cells have attracted much attention because of their potential to mature into virtually any cell type in the body. Because ethical and legal issues have hampered human ES cell research, mouse cells have provided a more viable platform for ES cell studies. However, mouse and human ES cells differ in a number of significant ways, raising the very real possibility that breakthroughs in mouse stem cell science simply won't be reproducible with human stem cells.

Researchers have had a relatively easy time genetically manipulating and preventing differentiation (maturation beyond the base pluripotent state) in mouse ES and iPS cells. But human ES and iPS cells have different sets of expressed genes and depend on different signaling pathways for growth and differentiation than mouse ES and iPS cells, which makes the human cells more difficult to work with.

Because of these biological differences, researchers refer to mouse ES and iPS cells as "naïve" while human ES and iPS cells, which teeter on the verge of maturation, are more mature and are referred to as being "primed" for differentiation.

Hanna thought this "primed" state of human cells might be attributable to the way the human ES cell lines are created and stored. To generate ES cell lines, researchers remove cells from an early-stage embryo, called a blastocyst. Once removed from this ball of 80-100 cells, the ES cells are put into serum with other cells to keep the ES cells alive and prevent them from differentiating.

Continue reading "Scientists create human embryonic stem cells with enhanced pluripotency" »

WARF loses a round in stem cell patent dispute

By Kathleen Gallagher of the Journal Sentinel

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has suffered a blow in its effort to protect a key patent for embryonic stem cell technology.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week reversed an earlier decision in which it rejected an appeal on one of three basic human embryonic stem cell patents held by the foundation, known as WARF.

The patent in question covers early work done by University of Wisconsin - Madison stem cell pioneer James Thomson. The patent office said it now agrees with the argument made by two foundations that Thomson's work covered by the single patent could have been performed by other scientists with access to the same resources.

The rejection does not affect a decision the patent office made in early 2008 to uphold two other basic embryonic stem cell patents held by WARF.

"WARF has been invited by the Board of Patent Appeals to continue prosecution of this application and plans to do so and vigorously pursue these claims with the patent office," the foundation said in a statement.

Full story.