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Brainstorm Health: Zombie Pigs, Bubble Boy Therapy, Human CRISPR Trials

Hello and happy hump day, readers.

I’d like to preface this by saying, we live in interesting times. Times of gene editing and cancer immunotherapy, pictures of black holes 55 million light years out, and, apparently, zombie pig brains.

Yale researchers say they were able to induce cellular activity in disembodied pig brains four hours after those brains’ former hosts had slipped the surly bonds of life. The process they used was, well, fascinating.

“The technique restored some crucial functions, such as the ability of cells to produce energy and remove waste, and helped to maintain the brains’ internal structures,” according to Nature.

But wait, it gets better. The prospect of literally resurrecting a deceased organ like the brain presents some interesting ethical dilemmas—including that of consciousness. So the researchers made provisions to shut down the brains’ abilities to fire off neurons through a preservative solution. Anesthetics were also on hand to shut down anything approaching complex brain activity if detected.

This isn’t just cool sci-fi tech; it could have real practical applications, such as the restoration of critical functions to brain injury victims. The fact that it also raises some questions about the very nature of death is a convenient add-on.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Penn researchers launch first U.S. CRISPR trial in humans. And so it’s begun. The first ever CRISPR gene editing trials in humans (in the U.S.) is underway in a project by University of Pennsylvania researchers funded by Sean Parker’s cancer immunotherapy organization. It’s a small trial of just a few dozen patients, but it presents a breakthrough in the gene editing field.

CRIPSR pioneer Jennifer Doudna slams embryo gene editing in He Jiankui writeup. Speaking of CRISPR… Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneers behind the gene editing technology, had some sharp words for the Chinese scientist who ostensibly modified embryos using the technique in TIME Magazine’s latest list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. “His reckless experimentation on the girls in China not only shattered scientific, medical and ethical norms, it was also medically unnecessary: while the girls’ father is HIV-positive, it’s rare for fathers to pass on the virus to their children, and if they do, potent drugs can now control the infection,” she wrote. (TIME)


Mustang Bio surges on “bubble boy” gene therapy. St. Jude researchers have successfully used a gene therapy to cure eight infants of so-called “Bubble Boy” disease (the condition that ravages the immune system, mostly in males, and leaves patients extremely susceptible to infections). The treatment was licensed to Mustang Bio, whose stock shot up some 250% on the data release. (Bloomberg)


The FDA has halted sales of pelvic mesh. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has halted all sales of pelvic mesh over safety concerns, the agency announced Tuesday. Boston Scientific and Coloplast are the two firms most directly affected by the decision. “In order for these mesh devices to stay on the market, we determined that we needed evidence that they worked better than surgery without the use of mesh to repair pelvic organ prolapse,” said Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a statement. “We couldn’t assure women that these devices were safe and effective long term.” (New York Times)


Why Netflix Is Welcoming Apple and Disney to Compete, by Adam Lashinsky

Katie Couric: How We Can Eliminate Bias Against Women in Scienceby Katie Couric

Pinterest and Zoom IPOs: 5 Signs Investors Should Watchby Lucinda Shen

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
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