Top Trumps
On Tuesday 8th November the citizens of the mighty U.S of A made what may have
seemed unthinkable a year ago, a reality. The 45th president of The United States will
be Donald J Trump. Obviously, this is worrying for many reasons mainly because he
is unpredictable, but what could this mean for US science? Trump has been quite
vocal about his scepticism of climate change, and the human led causes of such, and
he has also stated that he holds the belief of the causal effect of vaccinations and
autism. But, will these beliefs or others yet to be voiced, manifest themselves in
harmful policies, or will his focus on ‘innovation’ and strengthening the US economy
prove positive for research? Some are saying that the rumours that Newt Gingrich is
pegged for a top job in a Trump administration is a positive step, as he is publicly proresearch,
supporting a bid to double the NIH budget when he was speaker for the
house of representatives, and since has backed increases in many funding agencies.

Idealogically there are a couple of areas where Trump might show his hand, including,
among others, as already mentioned climate change as well as the use of human
embryonic stem cells for research. The president elect was vocal during his
campaigning about his desire to reverse the USA’s stance on global warming, repeal
Obama’s climate change regulations including the Clean Power Plan, strip back the
Environmental Protection Agency, and remove the United States from the Paris
Climate Accord. This has lead some to speculate on the rise of China in this field,
already leading the world on renewables. What effect this will have on Trumps decision
will have to be seen. On the use of stem cells, many scientists are fearful that Obama’s
decision to allow the use of human embryonic stem cells in research will also be
repealed under a Trump government, compounded by the addition of vice president
elect Pence who opposed the decision by Obama to allow research on human
embryonic stem cells on ethical grounds.
In regards to protecting scientific research as a whole many commentators are
suggesting playing to Trumps strong business sense. It is imperative that scientists
and those involved in raising the profile of research continue to engage business
leaders, policy makers and the public, keeping science relevant and making the case
for a strong research sector in a strong American economy.

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Walking again
Gregoire Courtine and colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
have detailed in a study published in Nature how two partially paralysed
rhesus macaques have had their ability to walk restored. An implant in the monkeys
brain picks up movement signals in the neurons, sends a wireless signal to a
computer which interprets the information and sends a pulse to a second implant below the damaged part of the spinal cord stimulating the muscles to move. This is the first time someone has been able to be able to restore walking ability in primates. This leap forward in the field of neuroprosthetics gives serious hope to patients where the spinal cord has not been completely severed.

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CRISPR strikes again
A team of Stanford researchers has used the gene editing tool, CRISPR/Cas9, to
correct the gene that causes Sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is the product of
a genetic mutation that causes a defect in haemoglobin molecule, necessary for the
delivery of oxygen in the blood cells. This defect forces the cells into a sickle shape
when oxygen levels drop, causing them to tangle together blocking blood vessels. The
researchers took heamatopoetic stem cells from humans, which have the ability to
travel from the blood stream to the bone marrow and produce new blood cells. The
stem cells were taken from patients with the disease, corrected using CRISPR
technology and then following concentration to yield at least 90% purity of corrected
cells, they were injected in to mice.
When the bone marrow of the recipient mice was analysed the corrected cells
were still healthy and producing up to 16 weeks after injection. Although no
CRISPR edited genes have yet been ‘proved’ safe for human use, this is
another success in the CRISPR utility belt, and gives new hope to genetic
disease sufferers.

Sickle-cell disease, sickle-cell anaemia or drepanocytosis is a recessive genetic blood disorder characterized by red blood cells that assume an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. Here healthy blood cells are seen along with diseased cells.

Written by: Brooke Lumicisi