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10 Amazing Biotechnological Advances in April 2013
So much developments have taken place in the field of biotechnology that it might need an infinite array of books to compile them at a place altogether! So, I just thought about introducing you to "the" latest advances in this field. And, nothing could be as better as telling the tale of biotechnological success in the month just passed-April 2013. Rather, I've decided to update you all revered readers every month about the most recent developments in our field. A few of the selected topics will be detailed in subsequent articles, to shed some insight. Feel free to ask for the details on the topic of your choice among the enlisted developments, I'll make a full-fledged article on that too!

So here is the brief summary on the most recent developments as occurred/reported in April 2013:

1. New Treatments For Neuro-degenerative diseases
Lorenz Studer from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has developed a new way of replacing Parkinson’s affected neurons. It focuses on differentiating the embryonic stem cells to a specific stage of development (2-3 months in utero). They are injected into the brain just before they differentiate into cells with long/intricate branches. He has developed the mode to generate millions of identical young neurons for transplantation and has thus evoked the risk of stem-cell mediated tumours in the brain (a problem with earlier strategy, which used to inject embryonic stem cells directly). It will take 3-4 years for this research to enter clinical trials for humans.

2. 3D Printer to Create Internal Blood Vessels & Tissues!
Scientists from the elite Oxford University have done the feat beyond imagination! They have created a 3D printer which can handle stem cells and create human tissues/organs! Though the technology is just developed, the researchers hope that the printed tissues will be able to replace the damaged ones, once the finer details of translating the characteristics of natural tissues into the printed version are met!

3. Childhood Obesity Determinants Unveiled
A recent research published on 8 April 2013 in Pediatrics, has mentioned a specific "Obesogenic Environment" as a causative agent of childhood obesity. Eating more or Less Physical activity is not the causative agent but the interplay of minor environments of routine life like the "size of dishware" , "TV screen time", "sleep-periods", "level of attention" etc as the obesity determinants. According to the research group, a complete reboot of today's kids' environments needs to be done, which seems highly non-probable!

4. NASA's New Mission for Extra-Terrestrial Life
On April 5, 2013, NASA shared the details of TESS, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, for the future launch in 2017. It's the official successor of NASA’s Kepler mission aimed at searching the exo-planets and extra-terrestrial life. TESS's range will be over 400 times that of Kepler and is expected to find about 500-700 earth like/super earth planets.

5. The Healing Power of Placebos

Placebos, also known as Dummy Treatments have long been known to treat the diseases. Despite the fact that there's no medicinal component in Placebos, their efficacy in treating the diseases has always caught the attention of researchers across the globe. In a recent unpublished research by Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School (who has a long history of working on Placebo Effect) reported in the Scientific American (April 2013), MRI scans were used to compare the effects of delivering actual medicine and Placebos, which indicated an increase in activity of the prefrontal cortex and the anterior insula portions of the brain (related to pain/relief sensation). The medicine just had a direct and fast response in bringing the activity in brain, while placebo had a relatively slower one. The research which supplements the previous findings really establishes a strong case for potential use of Placebos for treatments.
Following is a fascinating documentary on "Placeo: Cracking the Code" from Harvard Placebo Study Group (2002):

6. A living fossil's Genome Decoded

Coelacanth-the living fossil found first by a fisherman in 1938, and known for revealing information about the tetrapods through which amphibians, birds and mammals came into being, has got into limelight again by the efforts of a huge team of scientists across the globe working together for the cause of decoding the genome of Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae). Their exhaustive phylogenetic analysis lead to a significant conclusion that it's the Lung Fish which is closest ancestor of tetrapods, not Coelacanth. The open access research paper can be accessed at Nature Magazine Link

7. Inauguration of 2 Big Studies on Brain
Obama announced the inauguration of 2 BIG "BRAIN PROJECTS" called THE BRAIN Initiative and the Human Brain Project with a generous funding of whooping $1.3 billion! Where as the BRAIN initiative aims at developing high-throughput technologies to enable scientists to take dynamic pictures of the brain that might show the way brain cells and complex neural circuits interact in the quick time frame of real time thoughts!; Human Brain Project aims at deep and all round studies of brain, mapping the brain to its entirety, decoding cures to degenerative diseases etc. It's first goal is to develop 6 ICT-based research platforms that can provide the technology to meet the objectives.

8. Functional Transplant of Lab Grown Kidneys!
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston showcased a once imagined research: growing a kidney in laboratory and transplanting it into a rat 'successfully!'. The work was published in The Nature Medicine (April 14). The research was headed by organ-regeneration specialist Harald Ott, wherein they used a 'donor kidney', and turned it into a scaffold of connective tissues & blood vessels, by removing the kidney cells and blood vessels and made a fully functional kidney out-of it using new-born rats' kidney cells and blood cells.

9. Use Light to Treat Pain!: Optopharmacology
Researchers from Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Basel, Switzerland have unveiled the finding of a light sensitive ligand "Optovin", that binds to the ion-channel for painful sensory stimuli detection. With this finding, scientists hope to control neural activity by using light and hopefully, they might soon find the optimal way of light-stimulus control, to manage the pain stimulus-leading to altogether new way of medicating the painful diseases/conditions, Optopharmacology!

10. Potential Block-Buster Heart Drug!
Hobbs & Cohen, the two pioneer scientists at University of Texas have for long worked on a gene named PCSK9, that encodes a protein having a significant role in controlling LDL Cholesterol. Their years old hypothesis on Mendelian form of inheritance of the mutant form of PCSK9 (which leads to rock-bottom cholesterol levels in the carriers of mutation), has today been converted into clinical trials of using the mutant form of PCSK9 as a potential drug for Cardiac disorders!! The entire research & background was published on April 11, 2013 in The Nature.

So, these were some of the most fascinating developments in the field of Biotechnology in the month of April 2013. The list doesn't covers all the developments, but those included in the list were intriguing indeed!

Sunil Nagpal
MS(Research) Scholar, IIT Delhi (Alumnus)
Advisor for the Biotech Students portal (
Computational Researcher in BioSciences at a leading MNC

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