U.S. Scientists Use CRISPR to Fix Genetic Disease in Human Embryos For the First Time

[brightcove:5439635497001 default]

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

Scientists have successfully used CRISPR, a tool that cuts DNA with more precision than any other genome editing technology, to fix a genetic defect in human embryos that can cause serious heart problems, according to a landmark new study in the journal Nature. This is the first use of CRISPR on human embryos in the U.S.

Chinese scientists have reported using CRISPR to correct genetic defects in human embryos, but some of the embryos they used weren’t viable.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, from Oregon Health & Science University, collaborated with researchers at the Salk Institute, as well as with scientists from China and South Korea, to improve on those results. They applied CRISPR at the earliest stage possible—when the embryo is still a single cell—to ensure that the genetic changes they introduced were propagated to every cell of the embryo as it divided and developed. Because the embryos were created for research purposes only, none were allowed to develop beyond three days.

MORE: First CRISPR Human Trial Approved in the U.S.

CRISPR, which was introduced in 2012, precisely cuts DNA but does not repair it. If combined with other techniques, however, researchers say it could both cut out disease-causing genes and replace them with healthy versions to essentially cure genetic human diseases. So in order to further the science, Mitalipov and his colleagues wanted to test what happened when CRISPR was used in a human embryo. Theoretically, once CRISPR broke the DNA in the appropriate place to cut out a mutation, the cell’s natural repair mechanisms would kick in to repair the injury, fixing the defect this time with the proper code—much like how a word processor’s autocorrect function fixes spelling mistakes.

Unfortunately, this process isn’t very efficient in adult cells in which CRISPR has been tested, so Mitalipov expected similarly low yields in the embryos.

To his surprise, however, he found that embryos were very effective at fixing breaks in DNA.

He created embryos that contained a specific defect known to cause a heart condition by fertilizing healthy donor eggs from various women with sperm from a man who carried the genetic mutation for the disease. He then introduced CRISPR to splice out the mutated gene in more than 50 embryos just after the sperm fertilized the eggs, when the embryos were still just one cell. Several days later, 72% of the embryos showed no sign of the mutated gene; the gene was essentially corrected in all of their cells.

MORE: How the Science of CRISPR Can Change Your Genes

It turns out that the embryo relies on the normal copy of the gene, in this case from the egg, to fix the break made when CRISPR cut out the mutated gene. They key was to introduce CRISPR early enough so the embryo’s own DNA repair system could fix the mutated gene. That’s encouraging for one potential use of CRISPR in the future as a way to correct inherited genetic disease, says Mitalipov, since the embryo seems to have a built-in, reliable way of repairing the injury caused by splicing out an abnormal gene.

“Genetic diseases that are heritable can be treated this way as early as possible,” he says. “It’s the best way to treat the disease before the genetic mutation is actually transmitted to the embryo.”

MORE: New Technique That Lets Scientists Edit DNA Is Transforming Science—and Raising Difficult Questions

Currently, the most reliable way of screening for such inherited defects is by using IVF, screening the resulting embryos for the mutation and transferring only those without the mutation for pregnancy. But that may require several cycles of IVF, which is expensive and carries with it side effects and complications, before enough genetically healthy embryos are created.

The study results don’t mean that editing human embryos to correct genetic diseases will be available at hospitals anytime soon. While that’s the goal, the findings are just the first in a series of studies that will need to be done to document the safety and reliability of using CRISPR to fix human disease. For one, the efficiency of the CRISPR and repair process is still about 70%. “There is still work to do to improve the efficiency,” says Mitalopov. “But I think that’s possible to do.”

MORE: HIV Genes Have Been Cut Out of Live Animals Using CRISPR

He’s also encouraged by the fact that the gene editing and repair did not introduce other errors in the DNA. While it’s the most accurate DNA editor available, one of CRISPR’s drawbacks is that it can cut the genome in unintended places, especially where letters in the code look very similar to the target (again, similar to the way autocorrect can sometimes introduce more errors in attempting to fix a misspelling). Mitalipov’s team found no such off-target effects, a sign that CRISPR editing, at least in this study, was relatively safe. He notes, however, that may simply be an artifact of the particular gene he targeted; there may be coincidentally no parts of the genome that have similar sequences as the gene that CRISPR cut.

Even beyond the medical questions, there are also ethical concerns about the power inherent in manipulating the human genome. While correcting devastating diseases such as the heart condition Mitalipov studied, which can cause sudden death in young people, isn’t ethically controversial, using CRISPR to modify other genes—for intelligence, say, or athleticism or physical attributes like eye color or height—is much more problematic. The concerns are especially acute when it comes to eggs, sperm and embryos, since changes in these can be passed down to the next generation and forever change the human gene pool. The embryos that Mitalipov created were never intended to be transferred for pregnancy. But had they been allowed to develop, they would not contain the heart disease mutation, and they would not pass on the mutation to their offspring. The CRISPR editing would essentially eliminate the mutation from that family’s pedigree. Editing changes in already developed cells in adults aren’t inherited, so are less worrisome in terms of their legacy.

MORE: Pandora’s Baby: How A New Type Of Prenatal Genetic Testing Could Predict Your Child

For now, there are legal and regulatory hurdles to moving the research closer to human trials. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) does not provide funding for using CRISPR in human embryo research. The Food and Drug Administration is banned from considering studies that involve genetic altering of human eggs, sperm or embryos. Mitalipov and his team used funding from Oregon Health & Science and did not rely on any NIH support.

Source: Mind and Body

Degenerative Brain Disease Found In 87% of Former Football Players: Study

[brightcove:5114194401001 default]

 

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

The link between football and traumatic brain injury continues to strengthen. Now, one of the largest studies on the subject to date finds that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma.

Several studies have linked CTE to suicidal behavior, dementia and declines in memory, executive function and mood. Professional athletes may be at higher risk for CTE because of their high likelihood for concussions and other traumatic brain injuries; up to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year. In 2016, a health official with the NFL acknowledged the link between football and CTE for the first time.

In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the brains of 202 deceased people who had played football at various levels, from high school to the NFL. (The brains had been donated to a brain bank at Boston University for further study.) The researchers analyzed the brains for signs of CTE and also spoke to family members about the players’ histories.

They diagnosed CTE in 87% of the players. Among the 111 NFL players, 99% had CTE.

MORE: 40% of Former NFL Players Had Brain Injuries

“This study more than doubles the number of cases reported in the literature of CTE,” says study author Dr. Jesse Mez, an assistant professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine. “It suggests, with a lot of caveats, that this is probably not a rare disease—at least among those who are exposed to a lot of football.”

The severity of CTE symptoms appeared to progress the more a person played the sport. High school players included in the study tended to have mild disease, and most college, semi-professional and professional players had severe symptoms. The study authors also found that mood, behavior and cognition problems were common among the players with mild to severe CTE.

Among players with severe CTE, 85% had signs of dementia, and 89% had behavioral or mood symptoms, or both. They were also likely to have issues in brain regions associated with depressive symptoms, impulsivity and anxiety. 95% had cognitive symptoms, like issues with memory, executive function and attention.

TIME Health NewsletterGet the latest health and science news, plus: burning questions and expert tips. View Sample

The study has key limitations. Researchers studied a limited and possibly skewed sample of brains; news about repetitive head trauma and CTE has become increasingly prevalent, and families of players with symptoms of brain injury may have felt more motivated to participate in the brain bank study. It’s also still difficult to say how common CTE is among all football players.

“The numbers are not meant to represent the prevalence of CTE in football players,” says Mez. “But it does begin to suggest a relationship between football and this disease, and that’s an important step for research that will look at this in the future.”

Mez says the brain bank, which is ongoing, receives between 50 to 100 donations every year. Having access to brain tissue allows the researchers to study possible mechanisms for CTE, and why some players develop it while others do not. “We are really early in understanding this disease,” says Mez.

Source: Mind and Body

FDA Panel Recommends Approval of the First Gene Therapy Treatment

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

An advisory panel for the FDA recommended approving the first gene therapy for use in the U.S., and the treatment is meant for children with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common blood cancer in children. The FDA doesn’t have to follow the advice of the advisory committee, but it often does.

The new therapy, called chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy, provides new hope that the disease won’t just be treated, but cured. It’s based on using the immune system to fight against cancer—currently the most promising way to fight tumors. Cancer cells arise from normal cells, so the immune system doesn’t always recognize that anything is wrong. A pioneering group of drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), called checkpoint inhibitors, remove the brakes on the immune system and allow it to attack tumor cells that it normally wouldn’t.

The newly approved therapy CAR-T therapy works to co-opt the immune system in a different way. It involves removing a patient’s blood and essentially replacing it with a population of blood cells stacked with cancer-fighting immune cells known as T cells. To do that, researchers use gene therapy to change patients’ bone marrow cells, which make blood and immune cells, to recognize cancer cells.

[brightcove:5166622966001 default]

Novartis applied for the approval for its drug, tisagenlecleucel, to treat acute lymphblastic leukemia in children who have exhausted all the existing treatments for the disease. Doctors say the drug, which helps to genetically engineer the cells, only needs to be infused once to repopulate children’s blood with healthy, cancer-fighting cells. In a small group of patients who have received the therapy, 83% were in complete or partial remission three months later.

MORE: Immunotherapy May Treat This Deadly Breast Cancer

“Novartis has long believed in the potential of chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapies to change the cancer treatment paradigm,” the company said in a statement responding to the decision.

Other companies are also pursuing CAR-T cell strategies but have struggled with major complications. Some patients receiving CAR-T therapy can develop a severe inflammatory reaction known as cytokine release syndrome, in which the immune system is overactive and can cause high fever, neurological symptoms and organ damage. Earlier this year, Kite Pharma, which also has a CAR-T therapy product being reviewed by the FDA, reported the death of a patient from brain swelling, and Juno Therapeutics placed its CAR T program on hold when its scientists weren’t able to overcome the toxicity.

Researchers at the hearing told the advisory panel that careful monitoring for the first signs of the inflammation can keep it under control. The advisory panel determined, unanimously, 10-0, that the benefit of the therapy outweighed the risks.

Source: Mind and Body

Colorado Teen Wakes Up to 'Crunching Sound' as Bear Bites Into His Skull: 'I Was Afraid for My Life'

This article originally appeared on People.com.

WARNING: This story includes graphic photos

Dylan McWilliams, a 19-year-old wilderness survival teacher at Glacier View Ranch in Ward, Colorado, says he was fast asleep on July 9 when he heard a “crunching sound” as a black bear bit into the back of his head while he camped under a full moon with staffers.

McWilliams says he punched the bear in the eyes and nose as it dragged him 12 feet in about 15 seconds before finally letting go.

“I just woke up to a loud crunching sound and I remember a lot of pain, and just being drug across the ground by my head by a bear,” McWilliams tells PEOPLE. “I kind of thought it was a dream for a second, I didn’t know what was going on.”

“I was very afraid for my life,” he continues. “After it dropped me and I got back to where everybody was, I just laid down, and the blood was all over my eyes and I couldn’t see. I thought I was blind.”

Though McWilliams has only taught wilderness survival classes for two months at the camp, thanks to his family of outdoor enthusiasts, he knew that fighting back against the bear was his best chance at survival. Their advice may have saved his life.

McWilliams was taken to a nearby hospital after staffers called 911, where he was given nine staples to his scalp before being released. During the time of the attack, 12- and 13-year-old campers were sleeping in cabins 100 feet away. No one else was injured in the attack.

Experts say unprovoked behavior such as this is not typical of black bears, and on Monday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced that they trapped and euthanized a 280-pound black bear believed to have been the one that attacked McWilliams, according to CBS Denver.

After the bear was captured, McWilliams was there to see it. “I looked into its eyes—for me, I’ve always loved the outdoors, and animals—and I kind of felt bad for it,” he says. “But then, I was like, this thing tried to kill me. It tried to eat me. Then I didn’t really feel bad for it.”

Though he is still experiencing pain and headaches, McWilliams is back at work at the camp, and his passion for the outdoors continues.

When asked if he’s nervous about camping again, he said, “No, I’ll probably go tomorrow night.” 

Source: Mind and Body

Veteran Kirstie Ennis Lands a Cover of ESPN Magazine's Body Issue: 'The Hardest Part Was Dropping the Robe'

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Kirstie Ennis is used to facing challenges head-on —and her latest has her baring all on a cover of ESPN Magazine‘s Body Issue.

The Veteran Marine — who survived a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2012 that resulted in severe injuries and required more than 40 surgeries — had her left leg amputated above the knee at the end of 2015.

“I was intimidated at first,” Ennis admits of the prospect of stripping down for ESPN. But the thought of making a difference for other people going through similar struggles convinced her to say yes.

“I really thought about it and thought about the demographic and the people that would see it and I really realized that it wasn’t about me anymore,” she says. “Any man, woman, or child facing some sort of adversity has a potential to be inspired by these pictures and seeing somebody who only has been missing their leg for a few years go out and do things that she wasn’t doing with two legs.”

And though she says the first moment was the most nerve-wracking, she felt at ease by the end of the process.

“The hardest part was just dropping the robe,” she says. “At a certain point, it’s like, ‘Realistically, this is pretty badass. I don’t know of anybody else in the world that has ever climbed at Joshua Tree with no clothes on.’ “

Badass is an accurate description of Ennis, whose pursuits post-amputation are impressive. While her above-the-knee amputation came as a shock and slowed her recovery process, she didn’t let it stop her.

“That truly flipped my whole world upside down,” she says. “I didn’t think that I’d ever go back to snowboarding, I damn sure didn’t think I’d be climbing mountains or rock climbing. But I figured it out.”

Ennis is now one of the top Paralympic snowboarders in the world, and is looking forward to (hopefully) competing in PyeongChang next year. She’s also a mountain climber: She took on Kilimanjaro in March, Carstensz in a few weeks, and after that, Everest. Denali is on her schedule for the fall.

Despite these incredible accomplishments, Ennis’s recovery battle continues: Last November, she had to go back into the operating room to have two more inches of her leg removed.

“Curveball after curveball,” she says. “I’ve been blessed with a pretty strong body and I went right back into training as soon as they cleared me to get back up on two feet.”

Her injuries present not only physical hurdles, but mental ones, too. This is where the MVP Foundation — headed up by sports commentator and coach Jay Glazer — comes in. The program supports retired NFL players and combat veterans in their transitions to a life outside of professional sports and the armed forces. The group meets weekly, and after a 30-minute workout session, they all sit down for a “fireside chat” and talk about the importance of living.

“I said, ‘Show of hands, if this group wasn’t here, if we didn’t have this team, how many people in this room probably wouldn’t be alive right now?’ ” Glazer tells PEOPLE of a recent meeting. “And we had about 40 people raise their hands, including Kirstie.”

He says: “It’s just giving them a message of, ‘Different is good. Don’t be afraid to be different. You don’t need to blend in with the rest of society.’ Be proud of every battle scar you have, inside and out, wear that proudly.”

And even in a room of inspiring people who have overcome so much, Glazer says that Ennis stands out.

“She is one of the biggest game-changers of a person you’ll ever come across in your whole life,” Glazer says.

Ennis has inspired countless people, including Prince Harry, who she met at a Walking With the Wounded event in 2015. Following the event, Harry called Ennis his “hero,” and she went on to compete at the 2016 Invictus Games. Ennis won’t be competing in this year’s Invictus Games in Toronto, but hopes to participate in next year’s event, in Sydney, Australia.

“He is a good man with a big heart,” she says of Harry. “He’s definitely his mother’s child.”

Her personal accomplishments mean a lot to Ennis, but nothing has a more of an impact than helping others. She recalls one moment in particular when she was able to inspire a young girl who also wears a prosthetic.

“I like to think I’m pretty tough but kids will bring me to my knees pretty quick,” she says. “There was a little girl at the prosthetics office who had never seen another girl with a prosthetic, let alone a grown-up. She was going into her first day of second grade. And she was just so in awe of me, calling me a princess. I still stay in touch with all of them. Her dad got ahold of me and he’s like, ‘You’ll never know what you just did for my daughter just by being there with her and walking with her.'”

Source: Mind and Body

Asos Is Featuring Swimsuit Models With Stretch Marks and Acne Scars

This article originally appeared on InStyle.com. 

Asos just earned themselves some new fans with these body-positive swimsuit models. The online retailer is garnering some major praise online by featuring models with stretch marks, acne scars, and birthmarks on their website.

Unlike most swimsuit campaigns, the retailer refused to retouch the photos, and results are seriously stunning. How good is this model making that cut-out one-piece suit look? She’s gorgeous, flyaways and all.

 

 

 

 

 

In a world where bikini photos are often highly retouched, it’s refreshing as hell to see these girls rocking their natural beauty in a swimsuit.

RELATED: How I Gained Body Confidence Without Losing Weight

Asos, keep up the good work.

Source: Mind and Body

Women Show Love for Their Bodies in New Social Media Campaign #MyBodyMyBFF

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

A new social media campaign is asking women to be besties with their bodies.

Started by the U.K.-based lingerie and swimwear line, Curvy Kate, #MyBodyMyBFF is popping up on Instagram and Twitter with a body-positive message that encourages women to treat themselves as well as they would treat a friend. Women of all sizes are proudly posting photos of themselves in skin-baring attire such as bras and bikinis alongside the hashtag.

“Why are we so hard on ourselves when our bodies and minds are so amazing?” asks the Curvy Kate Instagram under a photo of three women wearing “Self Love Brings Beauty” T-shirts. “Well we think it’s time it stopped! #MyBodyMyBFF is a pledge to treat your body as if it were your best pal in the world. We want you to promise to be kind at every turn and live like the queen you are.”

The hashtag is part of a promotion to win Curvy Kate merchandise, but its message is much bigger, says Communications Manager Chantelle Crabb. “We wanted to produce a campaign that wasn’t just about people posting a one-off picture, but more about women joining a movement and pledging and promising to treat their bodies and minds better, to treat them with the kindness and care they deserve,” Crabb tells PEOPLE.  “It’s also really empowering just to read through all the posts, there is such a wide variety of people involved that it makes you realize just how unique and special we all are.”

 

 

 

Each day of the contest, which runs until July 15, a winner will receive Curvy Kate products. And the company hopes the campaign will encourage woman to be more body confident. Says Crabb: “A journey to self-love starts with small steps and #MyBodyMyBFF could just be the first step for someone.”

Source: Mind and Body

What Does Namaste Really Mean?

If you’ve ever taken yoga, then you know the two things that happen at the end of class. First, everyone does Savasana, aka the corpse pose, when you lie on your back in total relaxation. Once the class is sitting up again, you put your hands together at your heart or in front of your “third eye” (the center of your forehead between your eyes), bow, and say “Namaste.”

Saying Namaste at the conclusion of class is such a ritual, you may never have actually stopped to think about what that word really means—plus how it can shape your yoga practice, if not other aspects of your life. Here’s the deeper definition to Namaste that every yogi needs to know.

RELATED: Yoga Poses That Boost Metabolism

The definition of Namaste

Namaste’s literal translation in Sanskrit is "Nama" (to bow), "As" (I), and "Te" (you). Put it all together, and it means “I bow to you,” explains Liza Pitsirilos, yoga and fitness instructor at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami. Bowing forward as you say it underscores the depth and sincerity behind the term. “When you do this, you’re surrendering your head to your heart,” she explains.

Even though it’s just three short syllables, repeating Namaste is a crucial part of practicing yoga because it helps you take a step back and become more centered and present, which is what yoga is about. “We have such an active lifestyle focused on logic, reason, and problem-solving that it’s helpful to calm down an active mind by getting focused, so you’re not just jumping from thought to thought,” says Pitsirilos.

Not only does it help you dial back some of the crazy in life, but Namaste reminds you to acknowledge fellow students in class as well as the instructor. “In India, Namaste is also a greeting,” says Elisabeth Halfpapp, executive vice president of mind body programming at Exhale.

[brightcove:5309869276001 default]

 

When you use Namaste as a way to say hello or goodbye, you’re making an effort to actively connect to others. Sure, part of the reason you're at yoga class might be because the flows and poses help you challenge yourself and reach your fitness goals. Repeating Namaste, however, is a reminder that you and the people on the mats next to yours are all in this class, and this world, together and for a deeper purpose. 

Saying Namaste and reflecting on its meaning also helps you learn a little about yourself—what your heart wants, what you really feel, and what direction you want to take in life. “We’re a society that today is in our heads, rather than coming from our heart," says Halfpapp. "When I teach, I instruct my students to make decisions from their heart and core, which are better known as your gut feeling."

Halfpapp also notes that Namaste can remind you to reflect on your gratitude and look at the bigger picture, in spite of whatever crappy things life might be flinging your way in the moment.

RELATED: How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

How to practice Namaste in yoga class

If all of this sounds like a tall order—the dialing back, acknowledging others, keeping yourself in the present—that’s because we’re not really wired that way. It takes practice, which is why Namaste is recited at the very end of class. “You come out of Savasana with your mind more open and your body relaxed, and it’s at this point we’re more receptive to an exchange of Namaste,” explains Enilse Sehuanes-Urbaniak, yoga instructor at Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah.

Yet the more you practice and recognize the true meaning behind Namaste, the easier it will be to tap into that inner calm when you need it most. Exercising the mind is just like exercising the body: you build that muscle memory over time.

Because it’s so important, you should try your best to stay for the full class. Maybe you’re trying to beat the traffic or are already running late to meet friends for dinner, so you skip Savasana and Namaste. But rushing to your next appointment is completely contrary to the meaning behind Namaste. “There’s a saying that your class is only as good as your Savasana,” says Halfpapp. “That’s when your nervous system calms down and you absorb everything you did in class,” she says.

RELATED: 16 Perfect Yoga Gifts for Women

Next time you've got a class scheduled, stay through the end—and If you truly have to leave early, let your instructor know. Then take two minutes before you need to take off, come out of whatever pose you’re in and take a Savasana. You can say Namaste if you’d like, or just keep it in mind as you leave. If you think that sounds a little out there, we hear you. But give it a try, and you'll likely see how it makes a difference in how much more centered you feel.

How to live the principles of Namaste 

Namaste can help change how you carry yourself in everyday situations. “Namaste creates a deep union of our spirits together in class. That’s the collective experience of the word,” says Pitsirilos. Think of it as a moment of inner peace, which can ripple outward and surprise you by dissolving tension or conflict in other areas of your life.

“Namaste is sending messages of peace to the universe," adds Halfpapp. It’s all about the positive energy you've created with Namaste. Friends, family members, and even coworkers can “catch” your sense of gratitude. If you have a hard time believing that this happens, consider how easy it is to feel down after hanging out with a friend who’s attitude is totally negative. Moods really are contagious.

To get our best wellness tips delivered to you inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

Namaste can enhance your relationships too. Remember that saying “I bow to you,” or Namaste, essentially tells someone that you’re really seeing them as the person they are. And that extra attention can make them feel special. “The next time you meet someone, I encourage you to do so wholeheartedly. Take a moment to look the person in the eye and really be conscious to see the person past the physical,” suggests Pitsirilos.

It’s completely different from saying "hey" to a coworker and going about your day or “talking” to a friend while checking your phone. You’re there with them in the moment, and not anywhere else. “The ultimate gift we can give each other is our full presence,” says Pitsirilos. 

Source: Mind and Body