Soon, individuals with celiac disease in southern Spain will begin receiving regular allotments of bread. Rather than misguided charity, this will be a clinical trial of a new type of dough made from genetically modified (GM) wheat. The wheat has been altered to be low in gliadins—the portion of gluten proteins that are toxic to people with celiac disease. If successful, the trial could bolster growing research efforts to engineer wheat to be compatible with the immune systems of the ~1% of the global population with celiac disease and the much larger number of people with gluten allergies.
Low-gluten wheat could also open a new front in the battle for GM food acceptability in Europe. If Europeans are ever going to accept a GM food, celiac-safe wheat may be a good candidate. European consumers accounted for over 1.1 ($1.21) billion of nearly 1.9 billion worldwide gluten-free food market, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Global gluten-free bakery sales are expected to grow at >7% annually, the firm predicts. But because this and other efforts to modify wheat involve inserting genetic elements to silence genes, they are subject to a European regulatory process closely tied to anti-GM politics. And even if such legal barriers to marketing are overcome, marketing such a wheat would require not just farmers, but millers, bakers and consumers to be persuaded that it is worthwhile. Continue reading
In September IBM announced deals with Teva Pharma and Sage Bionetworks to use its Watson Health Cloud platform for a range of services, from selecting molecules for drug development to planning clinical trials and advising clinicians. A couple of weeks later, Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, revealed a partnership between its Azure cloud computing platform and the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) Genomics Institute for data storage and analysis to support its work on genomics research. Information technology firms large and small are expanding their ecosystem of cloud computing facilities and services, hoping to attract players in industry and academia. Cloud systems can ferry, store and combine clinical, research, social and health data. Companies are attracted to these services because they allow them to keep up with the constantly growing pool of information without having to invest in their own information technology infrastructure.
Read the rest of this news story in the December 2015 issue of Nature Biotechnology: [html].
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) opened a new office in April uniting its biology, and related engineering and computer science research. The Biological Technologies Office (BTO), directed by neurologist and retired Army colonel Geoffrey Ling, inherited 23 existing research programs and on April 24 launched its first new one, involving prosthetics. Other areas of research include diagnostics for infectious diseases, synthetic biology, biological clocks, systems biology and a program to establish the lineage of genetic modifications to living organisms. The office’s 2015 budget is around $250 million. Continue reading
Businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford committed $100 million this November to create a stem cell center at the University of California in San Diego (UCSD). The Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center will be directed by Lawrence Goldstein, who already directs UCSD’s stem cell research and the existing Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. “The goal is very straightforward,” Goldstein says, “and that is to accelerate the development of stem cell–based therapies for patients with intractable diseases.” Continue reading