A Wearable Brain Scanner
Brain scans have become an indispensable technique in neuroscience research and in medicine, but they require immobility, which rules out anything but mental activity, as well as use with small children and individuals with disorders such as Parkinson's. Richard Bowtell and colleagues at the University of Nottingham in the UK have developed a way to do magnetoencephalography using a light-weight, wearable helmet. The researchers reduced the size by replacing the superconducting sensors—which have to be cooled by circulating very cold liquid helium—with small glass cubes filled with vaporized rubidium. With the helmet, subjects can do things like drink from a cup or bounce a ball on a paddle; even though the head bobs a bit in the helmet, the results are practically identical to those of a fixed scanner. Drawbacks are that the 13 sensors can monitor only one brain area at a time, and the device has to be in an electromagnetically shielded area. Nature, Vol 555, 657-661. A video can be viewed here.

Lab Chimps Retiring, But Use of Monkeys Is Up
With the relocation of seven chimpanzees to the Project Chimp sanctuary in Georgia, where they will climb trees and socialize with other chimps on six acres of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are now more research chimps in retirement in sanctuaries than in research labs. The retirements began in 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared all U.S. research chimps endangered. Two of the newly-relocated group are famous: Leo and Hercules had been the subjects of an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, which asked the courts to declare them legal persons. Science, March 21, 2018.
   Meanwhile, laboratory use of non-human primates is at a record level in the U.S.; numbers exceeded 75,000 in 2017, 94% of which were monkeys. (Use of other animals is on the rise as well, though none has returned to 2008 levels.) The increase appears to be driven by researchers studying HIV/AIDS, the brain, Alzheimer's disease, and addiction, as well as by increased funding from the National Institutes of Health. ScienceNEWS, Nov 2, 2018.

Estonia Introduces Nationwide Genetic Testing
The government of Estonia plans to reduce genetically-based health risks by offering free DNA testing and health advice to 100,000 of its 1.3 million residents. The analyses will look for more than 600,000 DNA variants linked to common diseases and another 100,000 variants associated with rare diseases or with adverse reactions to 28 common medicines. The results will be provided to the family doctor, who will provide counseling; participants will likely have the ability to opt out of selected kinds of information. Some expressed concern that the results could engender unnecessary anxiety, but the plan has been well received; within the first 48 hours 10,000 people had applied. New Scientist, April 2, 2018.


How Far Will Gene Editing Go?
In an effort to treat male-linked diseases, Diane Choi is experimenting with using CRISPR to edit genes while within the sperm. New Scientist, July 3, 2018. Researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University for the first time in the U.S. edited DNA in human embryos in an attempt to eliminate an inherited heart condition. CNNhealth, Aug 2, 2017; Nature, 548, 413-419. And biochemist Joshua Zayner injected himself with DNA edited to remove the gene for myostatin, which regulates muscle growth, with the intent of boosting his strength. Now he is selling a kit with instructions for using the CRISPR gene editing technique so the user can do the same thing. New Scientist, Nov 18, 2017, 22-23.
    Spurred by concerns ranging from safety to the possibility of introducing genetically enhanced designer babies, various agencies are calling for restraint. The World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets standards for over 600 sports organizations including the International Olympic Committee now bans gene editing and alterations of gene expression. New Scientist, Oct 14, 2017, 4. An international committee convened by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences concluded that therapeutic embryo editing should be allowed only after considerable further research and as a last resort, such as when both parents have an inheritable disease that is caused by two copies of a mutation. Science, Feb 14, 2017. And the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in Washington, DC has called for a moratorium on all gene editing of human eggs, sperm, and embryos. Nature, 519, 410-411. In spite of these cautions and in apparent violation of Chinese law, He Jiankui at the Southern University of Science and Technology in China edited the genes of twin girls while still in the womb in a manner that changed the germ line, meaning that the alterations can be passed on to their children. He has been fired by the university and is being held under house arrest. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, Jan 21, 2019.
    But with a new blood test that could read a fetus's entire genome offering to make pre-birth genetic testing routine, there will almost certainly be tremendous pressure from parents to forge ahead. New Scientist, Oct 14, 2017, 4 .

Super-Fast 3-D Microscopic Brain Imaging
Scientists have developed an advanced microscopic technique that produces a 3-dimensional image of brain tissue seven times faster than current methods. They used expansion microscopy, which involves injecting the tissue with a fluorescent gel that expands to enlarge details, along with a lattice light-sheet microscope, which repeatedly sweeps an ultrathin sheet of light through the sample. The process still took 62.5 hours, but once the sections were computationally stitched together the scientists could zoom through the brain at high resoluton. Science, 363, DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8302.