Recently a research paper in the prestigious journal Nature was retracted; it had raised concerns that the CRISPR-based gene editing technique may cause widespread genetic damage but the authors faced criticism over the use of experimental controls. A new paper just release has raised new doubts, at least about the use of CRISPR to do gene editing inside people’s bodies. The new research found large deletions in about a fifth of the CRISPR-exposed cells. This problem may be circumvented by newer variations in the CRISPR technique, but caution appears warranted in proceeding to therapeutic use.
People in England will soon have access to DNA tests on an unprecedented scale when their health service becomes the first in the world to routinely offer genomic medicine. The service will first focus on cancers and rare diseases, with future tests to identify patients who may react badly to certain drugs, as well as tests that may predict onset of a disease such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and dementia. This initiative is an outcome of the UK’s 100,000 Genomes project and benefits from the expertise developed therein.
Genome Canada launched a national initiative for the clinical implementation of precision health, focusing on a rare disease pilot program as a foundational step.
BGI recently announced two North America partnerships, including one in Toronto that includes the first installation in North America of the BGISEQ-500. Hosting this new sequencer will be the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (LTRI), as part of a Genome Canada-funded project between BGI and the LTRI to develop a diagnostic test for preterm birth.
The province of Quebec is challenging the recent federal Genetic Non-Discrimination Act as unconstitutional, claiming it infringes on the provincial jurisdiction of insurance industry regulation. Yvonne Bombard, at St. Michael’s Hospital, and Bev Heim-Myers, CEO of the Huntington Society of Canada, are pushing back.
In 2017, a Nature paper got a lot of attention due to the claim by the Stanford authors that the CRISPR-based gene editing technique may cause widespread genetic damage when used in vivo. The authors have just retracted this paper, after concerns were raised that the proper controls had not been employed.
23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki has published an Op-ed critique of the position that consumers cannot interpret their own genetic risk scores. Recently, the FDA approved 23andMe’s genetic test for inherited cancer. There was some criticism of this, which Wojcicki compares to the warnings forty years ago that women might not be able to handle the results of those first home pregnancy tests.
Richard Beauchamp is cancer free despite his pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2014. Beauchamp learned that, in his case, his French Canadian genes held a clue to an effective treatment when he enrolled in the pan-Canadian clinial trial EPPIC. EPPIC aims to sequence the tumours of pancreatic cancer patients across the country and provide personalized treatment based on their particular subtype of the disease. Beauchamp and others are seeing the benefits of this approach.
With $4.4M in new funding, Dr. Richard Kim and team at Lawson Health Research Institue (LHSC) will follow patient outcomes and assess the cost-effectiveness of LHSC’s personalized medicine program, providing evidence on the relationship between the cost of the program and how patient care is improved. This program focuses on pharmacogenomics, the study of genetic changes that alter the way a person responds to individual drugs.
Andre Picard, commenting on the recent report on Canada’s Personal Genome Project, suggests that genomics has entered its frustrating adolescent phase. This study found that our genome “is a lot more messy and unpredictable than anyone could have imagined. Like a typical teenager.”