Brainstorm Health: Synthetic Embryos, NIH All of Us Project, Trump Drug Price Speech

May 3, 2018, 8:21 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers! This is Sy.

Dutch scientists have made yet another advance in embryonic science, creating synthetic embryos (mouse embryos, that is) without the need for sperm or eggs. Down the line, the achievement could have implications for human infertility, too.

Using mouse cells that weren’t gametes (the traditional sex cells), researchers from the MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine in the Netherlands were able to create “blastocyst-like structures”—which form during the early developmental stage for mammals. This was done using just two types of mouse stem cells, and the resulting mass of cells resembled what you’d expect from the more traditional baby-forming process. What’s more, these structures were then attached to the wombs of female mice and grew for several days in what the scientists claim is a medical first.

So how exactly might such biomedical technology benefit humans? For one, it could assist in infertility research, including the kind centering on miscarriages that occur at the implantation stage of development. “We can now generate extremely large numbers of these embryos and study them in detail,” lead researcher Dr. Nicolas Rivron told the BBC. “It could help us understand why some embryos fail to implant and let us screen for drugs that might help with fertility.”

But that reality may be a ways away. For one thing, creating and implanting artificial human embryos would require regulatory clearance. Nations like China and the U.K. have been somewhat more lenient on this issue than the United States (the U.K. paved the way for three-parent babies to combat devastating genetic disorders back in 2016), but most things involving even a whiff of genetic engineering still come with a fair bit of bioethical controversy.

Read on for the day’s news.


NIH begins enrollment in ambitious "All of Us" genome project. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has officially begun enrolling participants in its "All of Us" genetic research initiative. Announced by former President Barack Obama in 2015, the project aims to collect genomic data on one million Americans for health research—and a central mission of the project is to get information from minorities and other groups who may usually be left out of the clinical research process. “All of Us is an ambitious project that has the potential to revolutionize how we study disease and medicine,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a statement. “NIH’s unprecedented effort will lay the scientific foundation for a new era of personalized, highly effective health care. We look forward to working with people of all backgrounds to take this major step forward for our nation’s health.” (NIH)


Trump's drug price speech may include some surprises. President Donald Trump has often made high drug prices a target of his political ire. But his administration has done little so far to practically tackle the issue—a likely part of the reason why pharmaceutical stocks, which used to regularly rise or fall based on Trump's drug pricing comments, have been shrugging the president off in recent times. That might change if HHS Secretary Alex Azar is right and Trump's speech will contain far more expansive details about what the administration plans to do about high drug prices. Stay tuned. (CNBC)


A case study in American medical failure. Consider this your must-read, if depressing, read of the day. Dr. Brendan Reilly outlines a heartbreaking tale of failures up and down the American medical supply chain, and how the system at large failed one needy patient, in a poignant New England Journal of Medicine article. (NEJM)

Who will be the next VA Secretary nominee? Who will President Trump nominate to lead the VA following Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson's withdrawal from consideration as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs? According to the Washington Post, a top contender may be former GOP Congressman Jeff Miller, the chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs prior to his retirement last year. Miller currently works as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.  (Washington Post)


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