Week in Review: April 20–24

Peer review predicts successful projects; predicting cancer drug response; excising mtDNA mutations from mouse embryos; editing early human embryos

Tracy Vence
Apr 24, 2015

Study section successes

WIKIMEDIA, AREYNScientists who review National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications have recently awarded the highest scores to investigators who published more papers, were cited more often, and earned the most grant-related patents, according to an analysis of more than 130,000 funded proposals. The results were published this week (April 23) in Science.

“There is very little prior research on how effective peer-review committees are at deciding which grant applications to fund, and yet that is the major mechanism by which science funding is allocated in the United States and internationally,” said study coauthor Leila Agha of the Boston University Questrom School of Business.

When it comes to peer review, “most of the pontifications that you hear—most of the anger, editorials, suggestions for reform—have been remarkably data-free,” said Pierre Azoulay of the MIT Sloan School of Management who was not involved in the research. “So this paper, as far as I am concerned, is really a breath of fresh air.”

Mouse embryo editing

CELL, REDDY ET AL.Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, have used mitochondria-targeting restriction enzymes and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) in the mammalian germline and early-stage mouse embryos to remove mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutations. Their results were published in Cell this week (April 23).

“Because the cell likes keeping the number of mtDNA molecules constant, after elimination of the faulty ones, the wild-type copy will repopulate the cell,” explained Michal Minczuk of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Mitochondrial Biology Unit in Cambridge, U.K., who was not involved in the work.

Lab in a tumor

ERIC SMITHTwo independent teams—from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and MIT—have developed devices to simultaneously deliver several cancer drugs directly to a patient’s tumor so researchers can monitor local responses to the therapies. Both groups described their devices in Science Translational Medicine this week (April 22).

“Rather than serially treating patients until the most effective regimen is uncovered, these platforms allow fast-forwarding to the [most effective] regimen that is revealed in the tumor in which the device is planted,” medical oncologist Keith Flaherty of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center who was not involved in the work wrote in an e-mail to The Scientist.

Other news in life science:

Researchers Edit Early Embryos
Investigators in China observed extensive off-target effects when applying CRISPR-mediated gene editing in human zygotes.

Know Thy Cells
Nature journals will ask authors to authenticate cell lines used in manuscript submissions starting next month.

Time Bungles Precision Medicine
Personalized pancreatic cancer therapies based on tumor genomics may take too long to prepare to be helpful, according to a small clinical trial.

BRCA Breakthroughs?
Color Genomics announces a new, lower-cost BRCA mutation test, while Inserm and Quest Diagnostics reveal plans to pool patient data to investigate rare mutations.

Lab Bloopers
Reddit users share the worst mishaps they’ve witnessed while working in the lab.
Have a #labblooper to share? Find TS on Twitter, @TheScientistLLC.