CRISPR: Gene Editing and Movie Madness

There are new developments in genetics coming to light every day, each with the potential to dramatically change life as we know it. The increasingly controversial gene editing system, dubbed CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), is at the root of it all. Harnessed for use in genome editing in 20131, CRISPR has given hope to researchers looking to solve various biological problems. It’s with this technology that researchers anticipate eventually having the means to genetically modify humans and rid society of genetic disorders, such as hemophilia. While this is not yet possible, the building blocks are steadily being developed. Most recently, two groundbreaking studies concerning CRISPR have been released to the public. Continue reading “CRISPR: Gene Editing and Movie Madness”

To Seq, or Not to Seq

Seq—shorthand for “sequence”— has become a more recognizable term thanks to a novel and provocative genomics initiative called the BabySeq Project. The project, officially launched in May 2015, was designed to explore the impact of whole-exome sequencing (WES) on newborn infants and their families. A randomized, controlled trial to sequence healthy and sick infants and then provide sequencing information, it is the first of its kind. Those infants randomized to receive WES undergo genetic sequencing of all protein-coding genes and analysis of about 1,700 genes implicated in childhood health, along with 18 years of follow up genetic counseling.29813751-nov-2-blog-post-nicole-600x470-web

The project is directed by Robert C. Green, geneticist and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, and Alan H. Beggs of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Funding, totaling $25 million, comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Development and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Continue reading “To Seq, or Not to Seq”

One Reader’s Journey through the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (4)

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 4 February 25, 2010

As Rebecca Skloot describes her attempts to contact the Lacks family to learn Henrietta’s story, I suddenly feel like I am reading a mystery novel. No one is talking. Skloot ends up in the same Baltimore hotel, staring at the same B-R-O-M-O-S-E-L-T-Z-E-R sign as a journalist had 23 years earlier when he contacted the Lacks family for a Rolling Stone article about Henrietta. The scene is surreal film noir, a private detective alone on the road trying to find answers to questions only to keep running into dead ends. Continue reading “One Reader’s Journey through the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (4)”

One Reader’s Journey through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (3)

It’s been a while since I have pre-ordered a book and waited expectantly for its arrival. Ever since reading the first reviews of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on several Science Blogs sites, I have been itching to read this book for myself.

So, when I drove home and saw the boot prints in the snow leading to the front porch, I knew the awaited tome had finally arrived. I began my journey, guided by the able pen of Skloot, through the life of Henrietta Lacks and the incredible story of her tumor cells, first introduced to me as HeLa cells when I was a college student. At that time there was virtually no acknowledgment of the fact that these cells, a staple of cell biology research and teaching, originally came from a person, a mother, a wife, a daughter.

These blog entries will not attempt to be a review of Skloot’s book; more experienced book critics have done that and done it well. Instead, here is my reaction to the book “journaled” as I read—my thoughts and questions as a scientist, a writer, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a member of the human race.

Entry 3 February 17, 2010
As I read I am struck by contrasts, and perhaps that is what Skloot intended. Continue reading “One Reader’s Journey through The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (3)”

Science Is a Human Endeavor

Toward the end of my graduate studies, when I was itching to wrap up experiments and start writing, I did something radical. I signed up for a lay chaplaincy program, sort of a mini-clinical pastoral education (CPE) program, offered at that time through the university hospital.

I was reminded of this experience recently when I read an incredible blog, “Fountain Pens”, which, with its 260 well chosen words, threw me back to thinking hard about the relationship between science and humanity.

At the time I began the CPE program, I was really struggling, not sure whether I wanted to stick out the Ph.D. program to the bloody end (and it felt pretty bloody at that point).

Yes, I had devoted several years of my life to nematode husbandry. Yes, I had acquired a significant intellectual repository of information about worm sperm that would be largely useless outside of academia. Yes, I had suffered through and survived written and oral comprehensive exams. And yes, I was seriously considering leaving this huge investment of time and life behind me.

I had lost sight of what I had invested in. Continue reading “Science Is a Human Endeavor”