December 08, 2015

Gene Editing and Other Breakthroughs

By Chelsea German
In the latest installment of our series on how science and innovation are making the world better, we look at gene editing, a possible end to daily injections for diabetics, "smart" bandages, and even progress towards longer lifespans.

Diabetics may no longer need daily injections

Researches from the University of California and Yale have discovered a technique that will make daily insulin injections a thing of the past. Healthy people have, what are called, T-reg cells that protect the insulin making cells from being attacked. However, people with Type 1 Diabetes do not have a sufficient amount of T-reg cells, creating an insulin deficiency. These scientists have found a way to remove the small number of T-reg cells that the Type 1 Diabetes patients do have, multiply them in a lab, and then reinject them. In a trial of 14 people, this technique was shown to keep Type 1 Diabetes patients healthy for up to a year. 

Gene editing could end malaria and create better livestock

The era of “gene editing” is here. The company Recombinetics has created a technique in which a small section of a dairy cow’s DNA is replaced with the DNA of Angus beef cattle. This creates a dairy cow that does not grow horns and allows ranchers to skip the painful dehorning procedure that normally occurs. This technique is just the tip of the ice-burg. Two other projects that are being worked on include chickens that only produce female eggs and mosquitoes that do not carry malaria. The “gene editing” technology can be extremely beneficial to mankind, leading to increased food production from less resources.

Meet the “smart” bandages of the future

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a “smart” bandage. Led by Professor Xuanhe Zhao, the team invented a bandage that can sense patients’ skin temperature and deliver medicine to them based on their needs. The bandage can even be programmed to light up when its supply of medicine is running low. It is made from a futuristic hydrogel material that incorporates electronics while remaining soft and flexible. When the material stretches, as it will have to if the bandage is applied to an area such as an elbow or knee, its electronics remain intact and functional. Because of these qualities the material also holds promise for use in medical implants, such as internal glucose-sensors.

Gene-blocking can extend animal lifespans

Science may be on the right track to extending human lifespans by 25%. After examining over 40,000 genes across multiple species (mice, nematodes, and zebra fish), scientists from ETH Zurich in Switzerland and the Jena University Hospital in Germany have identified around 30 genes that seem to regulate aging. They were able to successfully extend the lifespan of nematodes, including the length of time that they remained in good health, by blocking RNA in these genes. Blocking one gene in particular, the bcat-1 gene, seemed to exert a large effect. When the right genes were inhibited, a nematode lived at least 5% longer than expected, and up to 25% longer.