Week in Review: January 23–27

Chimeric embryos, organs; restrictions on marijuana research; toward temperature-independent vaccine storage; broadly neutralizing antibodies show promise for HIV treatment, prevention; Trump’s first week in office affects scientists; final three WHO Director-General candidates selected

Tracy Vence
Jan 29, 2017

Human-pig chimeric embryos

Scientists have created the first-ever human–pig chimeric embryos, with a long-term goal of eventually devising a strategy to produce spare organs for transplantation into people. “The interspecies differences . . . are not insignificant hurdles to overcome to try and develop this technology further to make a whole human organ,” Stephen Strom of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden who was not involved in the work told The Scientist.

Nearer term, the embryos could be useful models for developmental biology, drug development, and more, noted the authors, whose findings were published in Cell last week (January 26).

Mouse-rat chimeric organs

Meanwhile, in Nature, researchers described their transplantation of mouse-rat chimeric pancreata into mice meant to model diabetes last week (January 25). The organs were functional, the team reported, regulating the rodents’ blood-glucose levels for more than a year.

Expanded access, except for science

While marijuana has been legalized...

Vaccines without freezers?

By tinkering with the processes through which immunizations are made, researchers are working to develop vaccines that need not be held under constant temperature control. Chris Fox of the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle and colleagues have so far made progress toward a thermostable, freeze-dried tuberculosis vaccine.

“We’re a couple of years in and have been able to demonstrate you can maintain the vaccine at room temperature or higher, 37 degrees Celsius or even 50 degrees Celsius, for several months and maintain the stability of the vaccine,” Fox told The Scientist. “So we’re now moving that into manufacturing and clinical testing.”

Toward multi-strain–targeting HIV vaccines

A unique lineage of broadly neutralizing antibodies could inspire the design of vaccines that target several strains of HIV, researchers reported in Science Immunology last week (January 27).

Although this study is an advance toward designing a broadly neutralizing vaccine, Michael said, it’s just the first “base camp” on the way up the vaccine equivalent of Mount Everest. “Getting to the second base camp would be breaking [immune] tolerance,” he told The Scientist. To achieve that, he said, “you’re looking at probably a 10-year series of experiments.”

Genes transcribed after death

Genes linked to embryonic development, stress, and cancer are among those increasingly transcribed after zebrafish and mice die, according to a study published in Open Biology last week (January 25). “We define the window between the time of organismal death and the time when not all cells are dead as ‘the twilight of death,’” coauthor Peter Noble at the University of Washington told The Scientist. “We found that there was a successional pattern to this time—more or less waves of transcription abundances. The shutdown is not random, it’s step-wise.”

Other news in life science

TS Picks: Trump’s First Week in Office
Gag orders at key science agencies were reportedly given, rescinded, and denied. Meanwhile, scientists say they are organizing a march on Washington.

Meet the Three Finalists for WHO Director-General
The World Health Organization announces three final candidates for the agency’s top position.

ACMG Urges Caution When Editing Embryo Genomes
The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics calls on scientists and health care providers to engage in public discussion about the ethical issues involved in genome editing.

Peer Reviewers Less Likely to Be Women
An analysis of journals from the American Geophysical Union finds women are underrepresented as reviewers, likely because editors recommend them less often.