0BA30ABA-9966-4E67-B865-5CABC4E4B337.jpg
In 2001, several research groups were able to get structures of a ribosome—a very complex nucleic acid structure and an enormous protein-RNA complex that is responsible for synthesizing proteins. Many scientists believed that getting an atomic-level image of a ribosome would be impossible because its structure is so complicated. (Ribosomes contain more than 50 proteins and thousands of RNA nucleotides.) Some scientists think these images—which were produced by Harry Noller at the University of California Santa Cruz, Venki Ramakrishnan at the University of Cambridge, England, and Thomas Steitz at Yale University—may be worthy of a Nobel Prize.

The Harvard Crimson, March 19, 2009, by Helen X. Yang — Harvard researchers have successfully constructed an essential cellular component responsible for synthesizing proteins—a discovery that marks a major stride towards creating artificial life, according to the lead investigator behind the project.

The first man-made ribosome was announced to an assembly of Harvard alumni Saturday afternoon in a symposium titled “The Future of Life,” by George M. Church, the lead investigator of the project and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School.

“[The ribosome is] the catalytic core of the cell,” said Michael C. Jewett, a research fellow who worked with Church. “The advantage of building them [in a lab] is that you can manipulate the system directly. It’s like opening the hood of a car and having direct access to the machination.”

Although their work is “a milestone…towards artificial life,” according to Jewett, both he and Church emphasized that they have not yet created any synthetic life, nor is that their main goal.

Instead, the research team’s aim is to “make useful products,” said Church.

The research behind the ribosome, funded by the National Institute of Health, could give scientists “unprecedented power to evolve ribosomes to produce unique proteins for compelling applications,” Jewett said. Crucial vaccines and pharmaceuticals could evolve from the discovery.

“The idea of being able to make new polymers, maybe one day making a mirror-image cell, which is resistant to almost all viruses and enzymes, would be of industrial and philosophical significance,” Church said.

Church, whose announcement Saturday came at an event sponsored by the Harvard Origin of Life Initiative, also said that studying ribosomes—one of the few cell components common to almost all life—can be relevant to our understanding of the first life on Earth.

“Ribosomes…allow us to connect the dots between the origins of life and the modern organism,” Church said. “Synthetic ribosomes will hopefully allow us to do those things better, or do things that haven’t been able to do before.”

The next step, researchers said, is to create a ribosome that will be completely synthetic, without the use of bacterial RNA and other protein additives.

Labs have created functional models of ribosomes in the past, Jewett said, but never in a way that so closely mimicked life itself.

“We’ve shown for the first time that we can actually carry out ribosomal synthesis, assembly, and protein synthesis in one compartment” said Jewett.

Jack W. Szostak, a genetics researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School professor who has been investigating the origins of life, acknowledged yesterday the significance of Church’s discovery.

“It’s always been a very difficult thing to do,” Szostak said. “It opens up more interesting experiences where you make something useful. It’s a step in a long pathway [to creating artificial life].”
……………………………………………………………….

Molecular Model of a Ribosome

861FFCF9-C8B4-4232-B90D-4BAAA1D21C6E.jpg

Ribosomes are complex molecular machines that make all the proteins found in every living thing on the planet. All natural proteins everywhere, from the silk and wool in clothes to the proteins in foods such as steak and lentils, have at some stage been made by a ribosome. Ribosomes reside inside cells and read off the code carried from the DNA by the messenger RNA (mRNA). They use this code to put the constituent amino acids together in the right order to make the different proteins. This molecular model shows all the different molecules, both RNA (turquoise, green and yellow) and protein (purple and orange), that go together to make up the complete structure of the ribosome. The three solid elements in the centre of the ribosome, coloured green, red and reddish brown, are the transfer RNAs (tRNAs), which flit in and out carrying the amino acids directly to the place where they are added to the growing protein chain. This process can be observed in the accompanying on-screen animation of protein synthesis.
Molecular model by Venki Ramakrishnan.
B0006575

………………………………………………………

DNA Translation

Ribosomes

After post-transcriptional processing, mRNA leaves the cell nucleus and bonds with a ribosome, a structure composed of proteins and RNA (rRNA) that assists in the binding process between mRNA codons and tRNA anticodons. While ribosome can only work on one mRNA strand at a time, multiple ribosomes can bind to any mRNA strand to form polyribosomes. Eukaryotic and prokaryotic ribosomes differ slightly in their size and complexity, though their function is generally similar. Until we discuss the specific properties of eukaryote translation, we will talk only about prokaryote translation.

Ribosome Structure

Ribosomes are composed of two subunits, one small and one large. Four binding sites are located on the ribosome, one for mRNA and three for tRNA. The three tRNA sites are labeled P, A, and E. The P site, called the peptidyl site, binds to the tRNA holding the growing polypeptide chain of amino acids. The A site (acceptor site), binds to the aminoacyl tRNA, which holds the new amino acid to be added to the polypeptide chain. The E site (exit site), serves as a threshold, the final transitory step before a tRNA now bereft of its amino acid is let go by the ribosome.

EB8719EC-2F1B-406B-BE31-EB0D50505E5F.jpg
Figure 2.1: A Ribosome

Once the small subunit associates with an mRNA molecule, the two subunits come together, creating a compactor that keeps the mRNA and tRNA in stable and proper orientation for protein synthesis.

Growth of the Protein

If we look at the chemical structure of an amino acid, we see that one end contains a terminal nitrogen group while the other contains a carboxyl group.

2547CF08-4B9F-4D63-809C-7E59083B6C8B.jpg
Figure 2.2: Amino Acid

When amino acids are transferred from the aminoacyl tRNA in the A site to the growing protein chain attached to the P site, they are transferred in a specific orientation so that the chain grows by adding amino acids to the carboxyl, not nitrogen, end of the chain. In this way, the protein chain grows in the nitrogen to carboxyl direction. This synthesized chain is called a polypeptide chain. Similarly, each amino acid added can be called a peptide; a building block of the larger polypeptide chain. Proteins are polypeptides.

B6E4C346-22ED-4686-B866-B54788882974.jpg
Figure 2.3: Polypeptide

………………………………………………………………………………………

www.cell.com/abstract

January 2009

The Native 3D Organization of Bacterial Polysomes

Florian Brandt1,2,Stephanie A. Etchells2,Julio O. Ortiz1,Adrian H. Elcock4,F. Ulrich Hartl2,3,,andWolfgang Baumeister1,3,,

1 Department of Molecular Structural Biology, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Am Klopferspitz 18, Martinsried 82152, Germany
2 Department of Cellular Biochemistry, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Am Klopferspitz 18, Martinsried 82152, Germany
3 Center for Integrated Protein Science Munich, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Butenandtstr. 5-13, München 81377, Germany
4 Department of Biochemistry, University of Iowa, 4-530 Bowen Science Building, 51 Newton Road, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA

Summary

Recent advances have led to insights into the structure of the bacterial ribosome, but little is known about the 3D organization of ribosomes in the context of translating polysomes. We employed cryoelectron tomography and a template-matching approach to map 70S ribosomes in vitrified bacterial translation extracts and in lysates of active E. coli spheroplasts. In these preparations, polysomal arrangements were observed in which neighboring ribosomes are densely packed and exhibit preferred orientations. Analysis of characteristic examples of polysomes reveals a staggered or pseudohelical organization of ribosomes along the mRNA trace, with the transcript being sequestered on the inside, the tRNA entrance sites being accessible, and the polypeptide exit sites facing the cytosol. Modeling of elongating nascent polypeptide chains suggests that this arrangement maximizes the distance between nascent chains on adjacent ribosomes, thereby reducing the probability of intermolecular interactions that would give rise to aggregation and limit productive folding.

……………………………………

Replicating Nanomachines

00E9D8FC-A630-4C0F-BB92-B4A3EBE396AC.jpg
By jurvetson

This gorgeous bacterial polysome was recently published in Cell. You can think of it as a 9-head programmable nanofabricator.

The ribosome reads the digital code of mRNA and manufactures most of what we care about in our bodies from a sequential concatenation of amino acids into proteins. The ribosome is a wonderful existence proof of the power and robustness of molecular machines. It is roughly 20nm on a side and consists of only 99 thousand atoms.

The numbered ribosomes are shown tightly bound to a single mRNA strand at the core, with each mRNA making its own protein. The two major subunits of each ribosome are blue and yellow. The nascent protein chains being cranked out in close proximity to each other are green and red.

The researchers conclude: “this arrangement maximizes the distance between nascent chains on adjacent ribosomes, thereby reducing the probability of intermolecular interactions that would give rise to aggregation and limit productive folding.”

To me it looks like hyperbolic crochet. (I’ll post a comparison image below)

…a mesmerizing image to behold during the Synthetic Genomics board meeting today. Another example of perceiving beauty in the accumulated complexity of simple iterative algorithms… like a 3D cellular automata from Wolfram or a hyperbolic coral reef.

Author: Robyn Siperstein, MD, Staff Physician, Department of Dermatology, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School
Coauthor(s): Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH, Professor and Head, Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School

Feb/March 2009
Treatment
Medical Care

Stem cell reconstitution is now first choice therapy for Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome (WAS) and should be performed as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed in order to prevent life-threatening infections.20 Potential sources for CD34+ stem cells include bone marrow, cord blood, and CD34+ peripheral cells mobilized by granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) treatment of the donor. The success of the transplantation is associated with many factors including the recipient’s age, donor selection, the conditioning regimen, and the extent of reconstitution.

Optimally, donor cells should match the patient at all 6 major histocompatibility (MHC) sites because an incomplete match carries a higher risk for complications (particularly graft versus host disease [GVHD]) in Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome compared with patients with most other primary immunodeficiency diseases. Matched-related bone marrow transplantation from a sibling has been successful in almost 90% of patients with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, with full T-cell, B-cell, and platelet engraftment.

Because a patient with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome has some degree of cell-mediated immunity, the patient must receive a preparative regime of immunosuppressive therapy, typically cyclophosphamide, busulfan, and, possibly, total body irradiation, to allow donor cells to engraft. Recently, fludarabine-based myeloablative conditioning regimens have been developed with promising results of good engraftment and low treatment-related toxicities.21 In utero transplantation is not an option because of the need for pretransplant immunosuppression.

Gene therapy is expected to become available in the future because studies in mice are promising. One study successfully transferred the WASP gene into hematopoietic stem cells, using the WASP –containing lentiviral vector, combined with nonlethal irradiation.22 Another murine study showed that the WASp transgene expression can be successfully maintained long-term in recipients and that it is associated with a significant repair of migratory defects.1 Phase I and II clinical studies are starting soon in several European countries to assess the safety and efficacy of this lentiviral vector in Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.23 Although the WASP gene is cloned, its exact identity and function are not fully understood, leading to concern that overexpression of WASP could cause clinical illness.

Management of infection includes antibiotics and possibly intravenous immunoglobulin G (IVIG). The decision to use prophylactic antibiotics and/or IVIG is made case-by-case, based on incidence and severity of infection in the individual patient. Postsplenectomy, prophylactic antibiotics are mandatory, although the patients who undergo splenectomy remain at considerable risk for overwhelming sepsis despite of prophylaxis. Immunizations are mandatory with conjugated polysaccharide Hib and pneumococcal vaccines and with the unconjugated meningococcal vaccines.

Postexposure prophylaxis for varicella is indicated. Varicella-zoster immune globulin is administered within 48 hours if possible, although it may be effective until 96 hours postexposure. Beyond that time, acyclovir is recommended during the incubation period. Patients with severe eczema are at risk for both disseminated varicella-zoster infection and eczema herpeticum. The appropriate treatment for both is oral acyclovir.

Manage acute bleeding with platelet transfusions and packed erythrocytes. All blood products should be leukocyte-free and screened to avoid transmission of cytomegalovirus (CMV), in addition to regular screening for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis viruses. Minimizing exposure to allogeneic cells in the patient for whom stem cell reconstitution is planned is important because such exposure increases graft rejection rates. Platelets have a shorter survival in Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome than in healthy individuals. Recurrent episodes of significant bleeding have been managed by splenectomy when immune reconstitution was not an option. Splenectomy is a controversial procedure because it increases the risk of infection with encapsulated organisms.

Treat eczema with conventional topical moisturizing creams and topical steroids. Milk and other potential food allergens may be eliminated from the diet on a trial basis to observe for improvement. Eczema often waxes and wanes with no apparent trigger, although some patients seem to improve during antibiotic therapy. Allergic rhinitis and asthma are treated in the same manner as in an immunocompetent individual. Eczema herpeticum is treated with oral acyclovir.

Manage autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) and other autoimmune disorders as in immunocompetent individuals. Interestingly, high-dose IVIG is unlikely to have benefit in AIHA or immune thrombocytopenia.

To read more, go to this website: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/888939-treatment?src=emed_whatnew_nl_0#genetherapy

Obama’s Stimulus Package Funds Research on Cutting Costs

The Washington Post, March 19, 2009, by Ceci Connolly — What’s best for insomnia — Lunesta, at about $6 a pill, or Zolpidem, at $2?

Should a man with prostate cancer choose radiation, surgery or “watchful waiting”?

Is it better to operate on a bad knee or get an injection of the joint fluid known as Visco.

To help doctors and patients decide, President Obama has dedicated $1.1 billion in the economic stimulus package for federal agencies to oversee studies on the merits of competing medical treatments.

The approach, known as comparative effectiveness research, is aimed at finding the best treatments at the best prices. Proponents say reducing ineffective or unproven care is one way to rein in health costs, which consume nearly 18 percent of the gross domestic product, straining family budgets, company profits and the federal government.

Skeptics, however, say Obama’s decision to invest heavily in such research will lead to European-style rationing in which patients are denied lifesaving therapies to save money. It also has alarmed some drug companies and medical device manufacturers, which fear that a system of winners and losers is bound to reduce their bottom lines.

The stimulus bill “treats health care the way European governments do: as a cost problem instead of a growth industry,” wrote Betsy McCaughey, a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who serves on the board of a medical-device company. “Imagine limiting growth and innovation in the electronics or auto industry during this downturn. This stimulus is dangerous to your health and the economy.”

But the idea of determining which treatment works best — and steering patients toward it — has been employed for years by state Medicaid programs, the Veterans Health Administration and many private health plans.

Systematic reviews of the mind-boggling array of drugs and treatments on the market has helped California-based Kaiser Permanente save hundreds of millions of dollars. Comparative effectiveness research has allowed the state of Washington to trim its Medicaid drug bill by $40 million a year and has shielded officials from aggressive lobbying by drugmakers, said Siri Childs, pharmacy administrator for that state.

The nerdy-sounding concept is even gaining cache with the public. Today, the independent Consumer Reports, better known for its car-buying guides and appliance ratings, will release “Best Drugs for Less.” It lists “best buys” for treating conditions such as migraines, diabetes and depression. For insomnia, it recommends Zolpidem, a low-cost generic Ambien.

“Many patients and doctors are under the impression that newer drugs are better,” said John Santa, a physician and director of the Health Ratings Center at Consumer Reports. “There are many, many, many good drugs that are a lot cheaper and just as effective.”

But medical decisions often involve more than just choosing between two pills and depend heavily on patient preference.

“Our medicines very often work better on some people than on other people,” said W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, president of the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Industry officials say they welcome the scientific reviews, but they are less enthusiastic about programs in Europe and at the Veterans Health Administration that link quality and cost. “Used incorrectly, it allows government payers to literally ban and keep medicines from patients who need them,” Tauzin said. He noted that many veterans have purchased Medicare drug coverage because of the restrictions in the VHA plan.

For now, Obama has stopped short of advocating coverage decisions that combine clinical findings with cost effectiveness.

“We’re not saying, ‘Do X or Y,’ ” said Carolyn Clancy, head of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which will receive $300 million under the stimulus package. “We’re saying, ‘Here are the facts, and you should have a conversation with your doctor.’ ”

The remaining stimulus money will be divided between the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. Experts at the Institute of Medicine will spend the next several months prioritizing the research.

Many health-care purchasers already combine clinical and cost effectiveness.

Most of the research today occurs at a handful of academic centers, such as the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, and 15 state Medicaid programs contract with Oregon’s Drug Effectiveness Review Project for reports on common diagnoses such as asthma.

The center’s findings on cholesterol-lowering drugs prompted the Missouri Medicaid program to switch most patients from the expensive drug Lipitor to the generic Simvastatin, saving the state nearly $4 million a year, said George Oestreich, director of Missouri’s pharmacy programs. A computer program tracks patient usage, and if a patient’s cholesterol remains high on the generic drug, it automatically allows the physician to prescribe another drug, including Lipitor, he said.

“What we’re doing is a microcosm of what could be done across the nation,” he said. “You can effectively use the best medical evidence to change the way we buy and deliver health care in our country.”

The Oregon center warned states that the Terbutaline pump — marketed heavily to Medicaid directors and state legislators — had little or no effect on reducing preterm births but serious side effects, said Mark Gibson, the center’s deputy director.

The research, he said, “gave states the ability to say, ‘That’s not something we’re going to cover.’ ”

At Kaiser, a team of pharmacists, doctors and other researchers takes a similar approach, “scouring the globe” for data on how well medications, devices and procedures work.

“The goal is to figure out under what circumstances is a given therapy best for certain patients,” said Sharon Levine, Kaiser’s associate executive medical director. The assessments are refined as data evolve and as researchers learn more about the effects of a given medication on subgroups such as women or minorities.

Often, Kaiser’s researchers are able to identify “an equally effective drug at a fraction of the cost,” she said. “This is how we can begin to make value choices.”

Kaiser estimates that it has saved $70 million on treatments for high blood pressure, $80 million on antidepressants and about $100 million on cholesterol-lowering medicines.

Sometimes, comparative effectiveness researchers are ahead of the Food and Drug Administration, such as when they raised concerns about the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx four years before it was pulled from the market. Kaiser’s researchers branded Vioxx no better than its lower-priced cousins, noting that in some cases it appeared to pose an increased risk of stomach bleeding or heart trouble.

In 2003, when about half of all patients with pain were prescribed Vioxx, less than 5 percent of eligible Kaiser patients were taking it. The decision, Levine said, protected Kaiser members from severe, even life-threatening heart complications and saved the health plan $100 million.

1713F984-2ECB-4F69-BFE4-FEE059CAA097.jpg
User unfriendly: Simple interfaces for launching distributed denial-of-service attacks, like the one shown here, have made it easier to attack political enemies, says Jose Nazario, manager of security research for Arbor Networks.
Credit: Arbor Networks

Denial-of-service attacks are on the rise, research shows.

MIT Technology Review, March 18, 2009, by Erica Naone — When armed conflict flared up between Russia and Georgia last summer, the smaller country also found itself subject to a crippling, coordinated Internet attack. An army of PCs controlled by hackers with strong ties to Russian hacking groups flooded Georgian sites with dummy requests, making it near impossible for them to respond to legitimate traffic. The attacks came fast and furious, at times directing 800 megabits of data per second at a targeted website.

This type of politically motivated Internet attack is becoming increasingly common, says Jose Nazario, manager of security research for Arbor Networks. “The problem is sweeping and has changed over the years,” Nazario said during a presentation at the security conference SOURCE Boston this week. He noted that the frequency of these attacks and the number of targets being hit have grown steadily over the past few years.

The type of attack aimed at Georgian sites is known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS). Targeted servers face an overwhelming number of requests from computers located all over the world. Sometimes these requests come from “zombie” computers that have been taken over by hackers, and sometimes they come from machines operated by individuals who have volunteered to help. Last summer, the targets included government servers, and those belonging to news outlets and to companies trying to defend against the attacks.

Arbor Networks uses several technologies to monitor DDoS attacks. The company provides network security tools to Internet service providers and large enterprises, and customers can choose to share data on traffic patterns to help identify attacks as they happen. Nazario says that this customer data covers about 80 percent of global Internet backbone traffic. Arbor’s researchers also use software tools to intercept commands that are intended for botnets, and they monitor Internet routing patterns for signs that an attack is taking place.

Nazario says that the bar for launching a DDoS attack has come down significantly in the past few years. Attacks aimed at Estonian sites in 2007 (during a time of political tension between this country and Russia) used botnets and scripts that weren’t easy for nontechnical people to employ. Now attackers can purchase tools such as Black Energy or NetBot Attacker (made by Russian and Chinese hackers, respectively) for less than $100 apiece. These kits give an attacker ready-made code and an easy-to-use interface to control a botnet. Attackers have even developed Web interfaces so that volunteers can more easily participate in an attack. Attacks are often coordinated in forums, Nazario says, and easy-to-use interfaces help boost participation.

Steven Bellovin, a professor of computer science at Columbia University who researches network security, agrees that politically motivated DDoS attacks are becoming more common. He says the reason is that they are becoming easier to launch and more effective. “You can’t launch a DDoS attack against an enemy who isn’t dependent on the Net,” Bellovin says. “You also can’t launch one unless you have adequate network resources.”

A big problem with these politically motivated attacks, according to Nazario, is that it’s particularly hard to pinpoint who is really responsible. While it’s easy to determine which botnet is the source of an attack, it’s far harder to determine who might be paying for the attack. This is a big worry for governments looking for redress or retaliation, he adds.

Currently, the procedure for defending against DDoS attacks involves shutting off traffic from the attacker as close as possible to the source, and carefully managing Internet traffic heading for the target. This can sometimes be a delicate political process, however. Governments can hire experts and buy tools to help them deal with an attack, but smaller organizations, such as newspapers, might need to turn to their Internet service providers for help. “The technology’s there–it’s just a matter of getting access to it,” Nazario says.

While Nazario says that denial-of-service attacks can be serious, he adds that it’s important to keep them in perspective in the context of warfare. “It doesn’t compare to people dying on the ground,” he says.

KPBS.org, March 19, 2009, by Tom Fudge — The closest most of us get to personalized medicine is having a personal relationship with a doctor. But in the future, medicine itself may be personal. Customized medicine is a growing trend that’s being driven by knowledge of the human genome. KPBS Health reporter Tom Fudge says a lot of this kind of research is being done in San Diego.

BAC59962-C497-4B9E-A467-E28CB400781C.jpg
(Photo: The SOLiD machine is a DNA sequencing system. Courtesy of Life Technologies)

There’s a break in the Oncology Symposium at UC San Diego’s Moores Cancer center. Dozens of cancer doctors and researchers drink coffee and eat croissants. The lectures and presentations can be tough to follow. Lots of talk about somatic mutations and EGR receptors. But it all gets down to stopping a deadly disease.

One of the conferees is John Mendelsohn, who founded the UCSD Cancer Center. He says the future of cancer treatment lies in knowing that different patients require different treatments.

“If you reduce cholesterol, you help heart disease, and one size fits all. But in cancer there are probably three of four hundred different genes that can be problematic. And in any one cancer it might be half a dozen of them out of that list of three or four hundred that are causing the cancer,” says Mendelsohn.

Knowledge of genetics is key to matching the treatment to the patient. Kip Miller is president of genetic systems for Life Technologies, a Carlsbad biotech company that manufactures a gene mapping device. He says, for instance, one very common gene mutation can render a popular, and expensive colon cancer drug called herbatux entirely ineffective.

“So if you can get that information right up front and see if you have the k-raz mutation, you can save your insurance company from having to pay that,” he says. “You can save yourself six weeks so you can undergo some other therapeutic regimen, and you can save that drug, which is precious because it is very difficult to make, for someone else who will actually benefit from it.”

The gene sequencing machine, made by Life Technologies, is called Solid 3.0. Miller says it’s reduced the cost of mapping one person’s genome to $10,000. Of course, you need to have access to a Solid machine first, and the machine costs half a million. Still, it’s a huge jump in affordability. Ten years ago mapping a human genome cost nearly $3 billion. The hope is to eventually reduce the cost of mapping your genome, with its six billion coding letters, to $1,000.

Dr. Eric Topol is the chief academic officer for Scripps Health. He says it’s already pretty easy to test people for a single gene mutation that makes you resistant or responsive to certain drugs. But he says we have very limited knowledge of the multitude of tiny genetic differences among us that can have an impact on treatment. He says the human genome is so diverse that it remains a mystery.

“Only five people have been fully sequenced, to date, and published,” says Topol. “We have such limited knowledge. Until we get thousands of people sequenced, and make heads or tails of those more uncommon, rare, low-frequency coding letter changes, then it becomes useful information.”

Back at the cancer symposium one topic of discussion is the possibility of sequencing the genomes, not of people, but of the cancers itself.

David Bentley is chief scientist at a San Diego-based biotech company called Illumina. He says scientists have already mapped the genome of a melanoma tumor. Unfortunately, like people, not all melanomas are the same, and many more sequences need to be done.

Benley says the genetic puzzle of cancer must come together, so we can abandon ineffective treatments for ones that really work.

“So while we have something like 140 approved, FDA-approved anti-cancer drugs, many of them may be administered without full knowledge of the enemy within. And we can do a great deal more to understand that,” says Benley.

The future of cancer and other disease treatments could go something like this. You go to the doctor, you get a lab test to check for gene abnormalities, then you receive a drug cocktail that’s designed for you. John Mendelsohn says it’s not common practice today, and it will be expensive. But he thinks personalized medicine will eventually save lives and save money.

Tom Fudge, KPBS News.

Key Messages from the Congress

12 March 2009

Copenhagen, Denmark: Following a successful International Scientific Congress Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions attended by more than 2,500 delegates from nearly 80 countries, preliminary messages from the findings were delivered by the Congress’ Scientific Writing Team. The conclusions will be published into a full synthesis report June 2009. The conclusions were handed over to the Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen today. The Danish Government will host the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2009 and will hand over the conclusions to the decision makers ahead of the Conference.

The six preliminary key messages are:

Key Message 1: Climatic Trends

Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

Key Message 2: Social disruption

The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

Key Message 3: Long-Term Strategy

Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

Key Message 4 – Equity Dimensions

Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

Key Message 5: Inaction is Inexcusable

There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches ? economic, technological, behavioural, management ? to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Key Message 6: Meeting the Challenge

To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

About the congress

The International Scientific Congress on Climate Change is taking place in Copenhagen 10 – 12 March. More than 2,000 participants are registered. The congress has received almost 1,600 scientific contributions from researchers from more than 70 countries. The preliminary conclusions from the congress will be presented Thursday 12 March at the closing session of the congress and will be developed in a synthesis report to be published in June this year. The synthesis report will be handed over to all participants at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in December in Copenhagen by the Danish Government. It is organized by International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU):

· Australian National University

· ETH Zürich

· National University of Singapore

· Peking University

· University of California, Berkeley

· University of Cambridge

· University of Copenhagen

· University of Oxford

· University of Tokyo

· Yale University

University of Copenhagen

Contact:

Climate Office

+45 61 16 32 33

Nørregade 10, P.O. Box 2177

morten.jastrup@gmail.com

DK-1017 Copenhagen K