Find out what’s happening in Science & Society around the world. Discover changes to science policy and law, new scientific study results, Supreme Court rulings, debates about nature versus nurture, and news about the sharing of genetic information.
One late spring day in 2014, three girls entered the woods in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Two walked out unharmed. A 911 call made not long after revealed the hazy outline of a vicious attack—one of the girls had been found by the side of the road covered in blood, having crawled there to get help. In the days and weeks that followed, details emerged that were no less disturbing: The three girls, all 12 years old, were best friends. The victim had been stabbed 19 times with a 5-inch blade and had barely survived. After being taken into police custody, the other two girls told interrogators what had happened: They had lured their friend into the woods to kill her so that they could appease someone called Slenderman.
A Chinese group has become the first to inject a person with cells that contain genes edited using the revolutionary CRISPR–Cas9 technique.
On October 28, a team led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University in Chengdu delivered the modified cells into a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial at the West China Hospital, also in Chengdu.
Earlier this year, Steve McCarroll announced that his team had discovered the gene that most powerfully drives our risk of schizophrenia. Known as C4, it was previously viewed as an immune-system gene, but clearly, it also does something in the brain. To work out what, McCarroll first needed to know which cells in the brain activate C4.
Easier said than done: “There’s no place for looking that up,” he says. Instead, his team had to examine slices from over 700 postmortem brains, and stain them with a dozen different-colored antibodies that recognize C4. “The slices were variable in quality. The antibodies were variable in quality. It took us almost a year to get satisfying answers. It was a slog.”
When Microsoft envisioned the medical world embracing HoloLens in the future, it wasn’t kidding around. Duke University is testing the augmented reality headset as an assistive tool for difficult brain surgeries like extraventricular drain placement, which relieves potentially fatal pressure. Instead of relying on CT scans and markers to insert a catheter into the skull during the draining procedure, Duke’s doctors would use HoloLens to overlay a reconstructed CT scan on the patient’s head. The virtual approach should not only be more accurate than conventional markers (the target is frequently too small or shifts around), but faster and simpler.
An ambitious $23-million (Rs 153.5 crore), award-winning five-year-old programme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to arrest childhood diarrhoea and pneumonia in Bihar–a state with India’s sixth highest mortality rate of children under five–has had little impact on disease prevalence or treatment, according to an evaluation by researchers from Duke and Stanford universities in the USA and the University College of London.