TimesOnline.co.uk, February 9, 2009, by Mark Henderson — Every baby born a decade from now will have its genetic code mapped at birth, the head of the world’s leading genome sequencing company has predicted.

A complete DNA read-out for every newborn will be technically feasible and affordable in less than five years, promising a revolution in healthcare, says Jay Flatley, the chief executive of Illumina.

Only social and legal issues are likely to delay the era of “genome sequences”, or genetic profiles, for all. By 2019 it will have become routine to map infants’ genes when they are born, Dr Flatley told The Times.

This will open a new approach to medicine, by which conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can be predicted and prevented and drugs prescribed more safely and effectively.

The development, however, will raise difficult questions about privacy and access to individuals’ genetic records. Many people may be reluctant to have their genome read, for fear that the results could be used against them by an employer or insurance company.

The prospect of genome screening for all has emerged because of the plummeting cost of the relevant technology.

The Human Genome Project, which published its first rough sequence of mankind’s genetic code in 2001, cost an estimated $4billion (£2.7billion). By the time the scientists James Watson and Craig Venter had their genomes mapped two years ago, the cost had fallen to about $1m (£700,000).

Genotyping services, which examine about 2million of the genome’s 6billion DNA letters for clues to disease, are already available to consumers for about $1,000 (£700). Those with deeper pockets can have their whole genome mapped for about $100,000 (£70,000).

Illumina is preparing to launch a much cheaper whole-genome service within two years. It has already begun seeking consent from its first customers, who are likely to pay between $10,000 and $20,000 (£7,000-£14,000).

Last month, Illumina announced a deal with Oxford Nanopore, a British company that is developing a new approach to sequencing that could bring costs down further.

In an interview with The Times, Dr Flatley said a genome sequence should be available for less than $1,000 (£700) in three to four years.

“The limitations are sociological; when and where people think it can be applied, the concerns people have about misinformation and the background ethics questions.

“I think those are actually going to be the limits that push it out to a ten-year timeframe,” he added.

A baby’s genome can be discovered at birth by a heel-prick blood test, similar to the one that is already used to screen for inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis.

By examining which genetic variants a person has inherited, it is possible to identify raised risks of developing an array of conditions, including cardiovascular disease and many cancers. Those at high risk can then be screened more regularly, or given drugs or dietary advice to lower their chances of becoming ill.

As DNA affects the way certain drugs are metabolised, personal genomes could also be used to ensure that patients get the medicine that is most likely to work for them and least likely to have side-effects.

Personal genome sequencing, however, will raise legitimate concerns about privacy,

“Bad things can be done with the genome. It could predict something about someone — and you could potentially hand information to their employer or their insurance company,” said Dr Flatley. “Legislation has to be passed.”

Complete genetic privacy, however, was unlikely to be possible, he added.

“People have to recognise that this horse is out of the barn, and that your genome probably can’t be protected, because everywhere you go you leave your genome behind.”

As the benefits become clearer, however, he believes that most people will want their genomes read and interpreted. The apparent benefits would soon eclipse the hazards.

U.S. Preventive Medicine

Mount Sinai Joins The Global Prevention Network(TM) as New York Affiliate

DALLAS and NEW YORK, Feb. 9 /PRNewswire/ — U.S. Preventive Medicine(R), the leader in disease prevention services, has signed an affiliation agreement with The Mount Sinai Medical Center to jointly participate in preventive medicine programs in New York City. Under the agreement, Mount Sinai will become the New York affiliate in The Global Prevention Network(TM), a select group of preeminent health care institutions with recognized preventive and executive health programs.

U. S. Preventive Medicine and Mount Sinai will collaborate in the delivery of preventive medicine programs, including wellness and disease management services to corporate executives, employees of sponsoring employers, and consumer members of The Prevention Plan(TM). As the New York affiliate in The Global Prevention Network, Mount Sinai will serve as a local referral partner for The Prevention Plan and executive health programs as well as an educational partner in U.S. Preventive Medicine’s international outreach efforts. Affiliates in the Global Prevention Network serve as referral partners in their local markets, enabling U.S. Preventive Medicine to provide both a national and global prevention solution for employers, insurers and governments.

The Mount Sinai Medical Center is comprised of The Mount Sinai Hospital, one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, an internationally recognized leader in research and medical education.

U.S. Preventive Medicine, an emerging leader in prevention, offers a suite of powerful prevention, early disease detection and chronic condition management programs, including its groundbreaking The Prevention Plan, that improve health outcomes while reducing health care costs. The Prevention Plan is the first-of-its kind benefit concept solely focused on preventive care, enabling individuals to determine their top health risks and receive a customized plan and ongoing personal attention to lower those risks and become healthier.

“We look forward to having Mount Sinai work with us and will be an ideal partner in helping us provide practical solutions for preventive care and disease management for The Prevention Plan members internationally,” said Christopher Fey, Chairman and CEO of U.S. Preventive Medicine. “We believe prevention is a movement that is gaining momentum and is going to revolutionize the health care industry. We are delighted to have Mount Sinai on our team.”

“Our affiliation with U.S. Preventive Medicine will help us better educate and encourage our patients to take control of their health, and allow us to provide preventive and follow-up care to a new population of prevention-minded consumers,” said Kenneth L. Davis, M.D., President and CEO of The Mount Sinai Medical Center. “This is an inherent part of our mission and we look forward to a fruitful working relationship.”

About U.S. Preventive Medicine(R)

U.S. Preventive Medicine(R), a privately-owned global prevention services company with clients nationwide and the United Kingdom, provides primary, secondary and tertiary clinical prevention services to government, employers and consumers that are data-driven and outcomes-oriented. Company products include the world’s first preventive health benefit,


About The Mount Sinai Medical Center

The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The Mount Sinai Hospital is one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. Founded in 1852, Mount Sinai today is a 1,171-bed tertiary-care teaching facility that is internationally acclaimed for excellence in clinical care. Last year, nearly 50,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients, and there were nearly 450,000 outpatient visits to the Medical Center.

Mount Sinai School of Medicine is internationally recognized as a leader in groundbreaking clinical and basic-science research, as well as having an innovative approach to medical education. With a faculty of more than 3,400 in 38 clinical and basic science departments and centers, Mount Sinai ranks among the top 20 medical schools in receipt of National Institute of Health (NIH) grants.

SOURCE U.S. Preventive Medicine

Drug Discovery & Development – February 9, 2009Despite predictions that pharma profits based on personalized medicine are still many years away, big pharmaceutical companies could reap large, near-term revenues by pairing new diagnostic tools with existing, commercially available drugs.

So says Scientia Advisors partner Amit Agarwal, who maintains that this new type of ‘life cycle management’ for drugs could also improve patient care and reduce national health costs.

Writing in the current Pharmaceutical Executive, Agarwal points out that most large pharmaceutical companies focus only on the costly, long-term development of biomarkers with the goal of bringing new, targeted therapies to market—and overlook the possibility that new diagnostics could increase revenues for their existing drugs and provide better patient outcomes. He suggests that big pharma would do well to emulate smaller companies that currently market diagnostics as part of their process in pharmaceutical sales.

‘Class leaders have the potential to gain great value by linking an already approved therapeutic to a diagnostic test,’ Agarwal says. ‘Our research shows that drugs with differentiated benefits, generics, or drugs that are late-to-market can also generate considerable financial returns.’

Pairing diagnostics with therapies allows companies to enhance their relationships with prescribing physicians by providing tools that can foster more effective treatment, Agarwal says. The diagnostic tools help doctors detect disease earlier, diagnose and differentiate patients likely to respond to particular therapeutics, minimize trial-and-error and adverse side effects, and monitor treatment.

Using a technique called PALM, Harald Hess and colleagues can pinpoint the positions of many different membrane proteins in two dimensions.
Credit: Howard Hughes Medical Institute

A new technique pushes the boundaries of super-resolution light microscopy.

MIT Technology Review, February 9, 2009, by Courtney Humphries — A revolution in light microscopy is letting scientists zoom in on structures never before visualized with visible light. New “super resolution” microscopy techniques under development in several labs allow scientists to view structures that were once too small to be seen under a light microscope, due to the inherent resolution limit imposed by the wavelength of light.

Scientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus recently announced the creation of a technique called interferometric photoactivated localization microscopy (iPALM), which allows them to create three-dimensional pictures of structures inside cells at the highest resolution yet seen with an optical microscope.

The technique, details of which were published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds a third dimension to a previous approach called PALM, which uses fluorescent molecules that can be switched on and off to resolve the details of small structures under a light microscope. With PALM, only a small fraction of the fluorescent molecules inside a cell are switched on at any given time, transforming a haze of light into a relatively sparse set of bright spots that can be resolved individually and that reveal the position of proteins tagged with fluorescent molecules. By stitching many images together, researchers create a complete two-dimensional picture.

To add a third dimension to PALM, the researchers turned to interferometry, a technique that is widely used for measuring angles and distances on the microscopic scale. Light from fluorescent molecules in the sample is captured from above and below, and the two light beams are sent to a beam splitter that directs them to three different cameras. The amount of light that reaches each camera can be used to calculate the vertical position of each fluorescent molecule within the sample. “In the end, we’re able to get the position in all three directions of a molecule in less than 20 nanometers,” or about 10 times the size of an average protein, says Harald Hess, the Janelia Farm scientist who led the study.

John Sedat, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, says that the paper is a “tour de force” in pushing the resolution of light microscopes. But he adds that one of the trade-offs of using such high spatial resolution for biological imaging is that it currently requires cells to be killed and chemically fixed, so it can’t capture events in real time. The challenge for the field, Sedat says, is to bring together advances in spatial resolution with real-time imaging of live cells.

Gleb Shtengel, one of the leaders of the new technique, says that although the time required to combine multiple pictures makes it difficult to capture fast-paced events with iPALM, “we are planning to expand it to live cell images of slower-moving events.”

NEW DELHI: Feb 9, 2009, by Papia Lahiri — As progress in the area of stem cell research promises to dramatically change the way diseases are treated, Indians are turning up in

large numbers at specialised ‘banks’ to store the body’s master cells as a potential biological repair kit.

With stem cell technology promising to provide breakthrough therapies for conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease, spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, companies in the business of storing master cells see the domestic market for stem cell banking grow at 15% annually to $540 million by 2010.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), while most transplants have taken place from stem cells derived from the bone marrow, the trend will shift towards embryonic stem cells by 2015.

But it’s cord blood stem cell banking, which is generating huge corporate interest now. Cryo-Save, Europe’s leading stem cell bank, and Cordlife, a Singapore-based cord blood-banking group, set up offices in India last month.

Stem cells act as building blocks of our tissue, blood and immune systems. They can be derived from bone marrow, embryos and the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a baby is born.

“The 8-10 players in the market have been increasing capacity steadily since 2007. India is one of the few countries in the world pursuing stem cell research. People who do not have diseases are also looking at banking options, solely as a biological insurance,” said KV Subramaniam, CEO of Reliance Life Sciences, which has over 5,000 cord blood samples in its repository.

It costs Rs 70,000-1,00,000 to store stem cells for 21 years at private cord blood stem cell banks in India.

With over 26 million births being registered every year, India is estimated to be the largest source of umbilical cord blood in the world.

“Gene therapy has a very long way to go and stem cell therapy will find its use in the near future. If surgery and pharmacy are two pillars of therapy, then stem cells will be the third pillar,” said V Chandramouli, MD, Cryo-Save (India).

Chennai-based LifeCell, which has a tie-up with Cryo-Cell International of the US, facilitates preservation of stem cells at its Chennai facility. It has set up a laboratory on the outskirts of the city and has more than 30 centres now.

“The great response towards stem cell banking has led to the opening of a public cord blood bank in India, Jeevan stem cell bank. It is targeting collection of 35,000 cord blood units for public use,” said Karan Goel, founder, Stem Cell Voice of India, a non-government organisation which works to create awareness of stem cell therapy and banking.

At present, there are seven private cord blood banks and one public cord blood stem cell bank. However, opinion is divided on research into human embryonic stem cells, which can differentiate into almost all types of body tissues and have the potential to treat a large number of diseases.

According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines, only embryos up to 14 days old can be used for therapy and they should not be generated for the sole purpose of obtaining stem cells. And only surplus or spare embryos can be used after obtaining the consent of parents.

“We are dealing with trial situations, but soon it may become alternate therapy for cases like spinal cord injury, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis,” said Ramananda Nadig, president, Clinical Research Education and Management Institute.

Cord blood banks must also focus on strong R&D to facilitate transplants and work in tandem with hospitals. There is no legislation governing stem cell therapy in India, but ICMR had spearheaded the formation of guidelines for stem cell research in 2007.

“Stem cell therapy is still at experimental and research stages. With respect to cord blood stem cell transplants, we haven’t seen significant transplant cases in India,” says ICMR principal scientific officer Geeta Jotwani.

By Abdulmohsin Al-Harthi

RIYADH – February 9, 2009 — As King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, inaugurates a package of development projects worth SR14.039 billion at King Saud University (KSU) here today, King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology, affiliated with KSU, announced that it has registered two nanotechnology patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The two products are the initial seeds in developing nanotech research in the Kingdom, especially in the water studies.

Abdullah Al-Othman, President of KSU, said the Kingdom has of late enlarged its scope of technology research and economic strategy to focus on a knowledge-based economy.

He said that the Riyadh Techno Valley of KSU, a substantial science park, has been established to satisfy the demands of the knowledge-based industries, and to commercialize its research outcomes, building the gateway for spin-off knowledge-based companies.

Department of Anatomy of the College of Medicine at KSU has been granted research funds by a medical research program funded by the European Union to continue its scholarly work on using nanotechnology to develop stem cells, said head researcher Mustafa Qassim.

The research proposal Advanced Functional Nanomaterials for Programming Stem Cells has won five million euros in research funds.
Regardless of the euro amount, the research fund has proved the scientific strides at KSU, said Abdullah Al-Dahmash, assistant researcher.

The projects to be inaugurated by King Abdullah include a university city for female students in Deraya worth SR7.5 billion to accommodate 30,000 students within three years, completion of the medical city at SR1.8 billion, teaching staff housing complex at SR2.1 billion, faculty buildings at men’s campus at SR1.1 billion, the National Center for Diabetes Research at SR150 million, the administration building for SR150 million, phase one of KSU endowments for SR1.15 billion, and Riyadh Technology Valley including electronics education center at SR89 million. – Okaz/SG

(Credit: CC Gesal)


How Conficker Virus Felled the Military

For the past two weeks, the French defense ministry’s networks have been infected by a computer virus that has brought down certain arms systems, like that of the French Navy’s Rafale fighter aircraft – The origin and exact characteristics of the virus aren’t known as yet, but the scope of the crisis, revealed by Intelligence Online, raises serious questions about the security of French military networks and their capacity to fight off computer attacks.

IntelligenceOnline.com, February 8, 2009, by Eric Krangel — Not keeping up with those Microsoft-issued (MSFT) security updates? Consider this: The French Air Force failed to keep its anti-virus software up to date, and as a result the “Conficker” virus put several Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft out of commission.

Liberation has the story, translated by CNET:

Apparently in the past two weeks, some French fighter planes were grounded because the military had failed to take sufficient action (even though Microsoft had sent advance warning) to prevent the spread of a Windows-transmitted virus that some call Conficker and the Liberation journalist, Jean-Dominique Merchet, calls Conflicter..

Intelligence Online (paywall) insists that the incident “raises serious questions about the security of French military networks and their capacity to fight off computer attacks.”

Incapacitated jet aircraft are one thing, but recently the British Royal Navy moved to use Windows XP to run its nuclear submarine fleet.

Let’s hope the British military is more thorough in its approach to network security than their French counterparts.