Week in Review: April 27–May 1

CRISPR quells hepatitis C virus; new epigenetic mark found; stem cell therapy for eye disease move forward; how the rat brain processes behavioral information

May 1, 2015
Tracy Vence

CRISPR for HCV

WIKIMEDIA, CDCInvestigators at Emory University in Atlanta have used a version of a Cas9 enzyme to target hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA in human cells, blocking replication of the pathogen. Their results were published in PNAS this week (April 27).

“There are lots of these Cas systems that exist in nature, and we don’t understand them very well,” said Charles Gersbach, a biomedical engineer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved in the work.

New epigenetic mark

WIKIMEDIA, CHRISTOPH BOCKThree papers published in Cell this week (April 30) identify roles for N6-methyladenosine (6mA) in algae, worms, and flies. Researchers from the University of Chicago, Harvard, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, among other institutions, examined this form of methylation in three model systems.

While 6mA may not be as widespread as methylated cytosine is known to be in mammals, “it’s very clear it plays important roles in specific times of development and in specific biological processes,” said Chicago’s Chuan He, a coauthor on all three studies.

“The secret of these three Cell papers is that now there are technologies that can detect very low levels [of methylation] that were impossible to detect with the old methods,” said Josep Casadesús of the University of Seville, Spain, who was not involved in the work.

Stem cell treatment safe

STEM CELL REPORTS, W.K. SONG ET AL.The results of a four-person trial published in Stem Cell Reports this week (April 30) support existing evidence that human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived retinal support cells can be safely injected into the eyes of patients with macular degeneration. The work follows on two studies, published in The Lancet, which suggested similar treatments were safe.

“I think this bodes well for the future of stem cell therapies,” said study coauthor Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Ocata Therapeutics (formerly Advanced Cell Technology), which is developing the hESC-based treatment.

“At least it shows safety,” said Magdalene Seiler, a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the work. “Whether it works in the long term is up for debate.”

Overall, the results are “inspiring other scientists,” said Jeanne Loring at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the work. “It makes us feel like we’ll be able to do similar things in whatever diseases we’re studying.”

Targeted neural transmissions

WIKIMEDIA, BENMITCHThe rat hippocampus selectively sends information to different areas of the brain depending on the task at hand, scientists from the Medical University of Vienna and their colleagues showed in Science this week (April 30).

“This latest result is in line with the idea that there are these preferred pathways for specific information,” said systems neuroscientist Joshua Gordon of Columbia University in New York who was not involved in the work.


Other news in life science:

TS Picks: April 28, 2015
Embryo editing edition

Similar Strokes
Physics drove the convergent evolution of swimming in 22 unrelated marine species, a study suggests.

WHO: Few Countries Protecting Antibiotics
Just a quarter of countries have an action plan in place to address antibiotic resistance, according to a survey by the World Health Organization.

Lab Bloopers Galore
Readers reveal research mishaps