CRISPR Gene Editing Breakthrough could Treat many More Diseases

CRISPR gene editing already promises to fight diseases that were once thought unassailable, but techniques so far have required injecting the tools directly into affected cells. That’s not very practical for some conditions. However, there’s just been a breakthrough. NPR reports that researchers have published results showing that you can inject CRISPR-Cas9 into the bloodstream to make edits, opening the door to the use of gene editing for treating many common diseases.

The experimental treatment tackled a rare genetic disease, transthyretin amyloidosis. Scientists injected volunteers with CRISPR-loaded nanoparticles that were absorbed by the patients’ livers, editing a gene in the organ to disable production of a harmful protein. Levels of that protein plunged within weeks of the injection, saving patients from an illness that can rapidly destroy nerves and other tissues in their bodies.

The test involved just six people, and the research team still has to conduct long-term studies to check for possible negative effects. If this method proves viable on a large scale, though, it could be used to treat illnesses where existing CRISPR techniques aren’t practical, ranging from Alzheimer’s to heart disease.

There are some ethical considerations. Some are already wary about the potential for abusing CRISPR for ‘designer babies‘ and other less-than-altruistic purposes. Bloodstream injections would make it that much easier to perform dubious edits. If used properly, however, this new CRISPR method could avoid (or prevent) suffering that was once considered inevitable.

Source: https://www.npr.org/
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https://www.engadget.com/

Arms Nerves Trained To Control Movements of Prosthetic Fingers

Today’s artificial limbs can look very natural, and now an innovative process makes prosthetic hands move more naturally as well. In an innovative experiment, scientists have shown that the nerves in patients’ arms can be trained to control the movements of prosthetic fingers and thumbs.

“This is the biggest advance in motor control for people with amputations in many years,” said Paul Cederna, a professor of plastic surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan.

A challenge to powering prosthetics has been the minute signals put out by an amputee’s nerves. Cederna’s team boosted the signal by wrapping tiny bits of muscle around nerve endings, according to their study published in Science Translational Medicine.

As the nerves grow into the muscle, the person’s thoughts can create a muscle twitch that produces a signal big enough to be picked up by tiny wires connected to a nearby computer, which tells the prosthetic hand to move.

Our ultimate goal is to have prosthetic limbs that the person views as a part of their body,” Cederna said. In an example of how well the system works, a woman who was nervously tapping her own fingers prompted the prosthetic to tap right along with it, Cederna said. “It was just doing what the other hand was doing, like it was a part of her,” he noted. “This worked the very first time we tried it. There’s no learning for the participants. All of the learning happens in our algorithms. That’s different from other approaches.

The procedure also worked for another amputee in the study who had lost not only his hand, but also part of his arm. “It’s the coolest part of what they’ve shown,” said Lee Fisher, an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s department of physical medicine and rehabilitation and bioengineering.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/

Amputee Feels In Real-Time With Bionic Hand

Nine years after an accident caused the loss of his left hand, Dennis Aabo Sørensen from Denmark became the first amputee in the world to feel – in real-time – with a sensory-enhanced prosthetic hand that was surgically wired to nerves in his upper arm. Silvestro Micera and his team at EPFL Center for Neuroprosthetics (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland) and SSSA (Italy) developed the revolutionary sensory feedback that allowed Sørensen to feel again while handling objects. A prototype of this bionic technology was tested in February 2013 during a clinical trial in Rome under the supervision of Paolo Maria Rossini at Gemelli Hospital (Italy). The study is published in the February 5, 2014 edition of Science Translational Medicine, and represents a collaboration called Lifehand 2 between several European universities and hospitals.
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The sensory feedback was incredible,” reports the 36 year-old amputee from Denmark. “I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years.” In a laboratory setting wearing a blindfold and earplugs, Sørensen was able to detect how strongly he was grasping, as well as the shape and consistency of different objects he picked up with his prosthetic. “When I held an object, I could feel if it was soft or hard, round or square.

Micera and his team enhanced the artificial hand with sensors that detect information about touch. This was done by measuring the tension in artificial tendons that control finger movement and turning this measurement into an electrical current. But this electrical signal is too coarse to be understood by the nervous system. Using computer algorithms, the scientists transformed the electrical signal into an impulse that sensory nerves can interpret. The sense of touch was achieved by sending the digitally refined signal through wires into four electrodes that were surgically implanted into what remains of Sørensen’s upper arm nerves.

This is the first time in neuroprosthetics that sensory feedback has been restored and used by an amputee in real-time to control an artificial limb,” says Micera. “We were worried about reduced sensitivity in Dennis’ nerves since they hadn’t been used in over nine years,” says Stanisa Raspopovic, first author and scientist at EPFL and SSSA. These concerns faded away as the scientists successfully reactivated Sørensen’s sense of touch.

Source: https://actu.epfl.ch/