Biotechnology Breakthroughs of 2018 – A Mid-Year Review

Biotechnology is one of those ‘never-ceases-to-amuse-me’ kind of subjects that despite having heavy funding and research has lots of grey areas. It’s a bit like a universe within us. And literally too, just like the stars and the cosmos, genes might help us find our origins. It has come a long way from Darwin to finding the human genome sequence. The research is exhilarating and scary at the same time.

Advancements & Breakthroughs in Biotech

Below are some of the new discoveries in biotechnology:

Biotechnology Breakthroughs 2018

Image source – Pixabay.com

Blood transfusions through genome sequencing

Scientists from Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and New York Blood Center have are working towards integrating whole genome sequencing data into clinical medicine. They hope to develop an algorithm that can determine differences in individuals’ blood types with more than 99 percent accuracy. The aim of this project is to modernize therapy by identifying rare blood donors and at-risk recipients before blood transfusions.

“Blood transfusion complications are common in patients needing chronic transfusion, but with current technology, it is not cost-effective to do blood typing for all antigens,” said first author William Lane, MD, PhD, director of Clinical Laboratory Informatics. “But the algorithm we have developed can be applied to type everyone for all relevant blood groups at a low cost once sequencing is obtained.” (Read More)

Functional cure of HIV using CRISPR

Currently there are roughly 35 million people worldwide living with an HIV infection. There is no existing functional cure, as existing treatments cannot control the HIV-1 proliferation. However, Japanese scientists have successfully stopped the HIV-1 virus replication in latent, infected T-cell cultures. The researchers used CRISPR gene-editing to achieve this by disrupting two regulatory HIV-1 genes, tat and rev, that are essential for viral replication. (Read more)

Kidney regenerated using stem cells in Australia

New research by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) of Australia combined gene editing technology with stem cell kidney regeneration to correct a 12-year-old patient’s gene mutation. The stem cells were created from a skin biopsy taken from 12-year-old Alexandria, who suffers from Mainzer-Saldino Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing progressive retinal degeneration and end-stage kidney disease.

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This is the first time a patient has had kidney regenerated from their stem cells in Australia. The research is part of a regenerative medicine project in which human stem cells are used to develop mini-kidneys with a view to discovering new genes and treatments for inherited renal diseases. (Read more)

Discoveries of new CRISPR enzymes

Scientists at the Gene Editing Institute, Christiana Care were able to make multiple changes to genetic code by extracting DNA from human cells and putting it into a test tube, where a protein called Cpf1 cut into the DNA and cleared the way for CRISPR to make edits.released CRISPR from behind the barricade of the cell wall. They

Previous CRISPR tools limit gene-editing to short snippets of DNA within one single gene. Extracting the DNA from the cell could allow for more edits at one time.

The new CRISPR tool relies on an enzyme known as Cpf1, rather than Cas9, the enzyme typically paired with the CRISPR system to cut up DNA. Discoveries of new CRISPR enzymes have helped to create a litany of new potential uses for the technology. For example, while Cas9 results in blunt ends when it slices through DNA, Cpf1 creates sticky ends that make it better suited for the removing larger chunks of genetic code.

According to researchers, this could have value in diagnosing cancer, replicating exact genetic mutations found in the tumors of individual cancer patients and identifying exactly what kind of cancer a patient has in order to develop a targeted treatment. They are also working on commercializing this diagnostic tool. (Read more)

Growing Human Body Parts in Lab

This may sound like something straight out of sci-fi movie, but we are closer to achieving this due to the advancements in stem cell technologies.

Heart: Scientists (Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School) are using pluripotent stem cells to form tissue resembling that of a developing human heart.

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Eyes: Scientists (Moorfield Eye Hospital, University College London) are growing eyecups using skin cells from people with rare genetic eye diseases. Those eyecups are being used to isolate disease-causing genes and develop targeted treatments for patients.

Bones: Scientists (University of Glasgow, University of the West of Scotland) extracted stem cells from bone marrow cells to create a ‘putty’ for use as a graft for broken bones.

Muscles: Researchers (Duke University) have grown muscle fibers that twitch and respond to electrical stimuli. The muscle cells were grown from pluripotent stem cells or cells taken from a biopsy.

Brains: Scientists (University of California) are taking stem cells from children’s milk teeth and reprogramming them into neurons. These organoids resemble brains in the early embryonic stage. They did this to study genetic mutations in the brain.

Liver: Scientists (Yokohama City University) successfully tested growing liver buds from human stem cells. These immature clumps of liver cells formed their own blood supply and matured into adult liver cells when transplanted into mice. In tests, the cells showed some normal liver functions.


What else have we missed here? let us know more on the comment below. We will keep updating this post when we learn about more fascinating discoveries in the field of Biotechnology.

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