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.

Retirement of Lab Chimps Gains Momentum
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.

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 Can Gene Editing Go?
Recently a biochemist 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. Of course, this raises significant ethical questions, but proponents argue that a person has the right to alter his or her own genes. That argument won't fly with the World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets standards for over 600 sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee. WADA has revised its list of banned substances and techniques to prohibit gene editing and alterations of gene expression. New Scientist, Oct 14, 2017, 4.
     More significantly, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University have for the first time in the U.S. edited DNA in human embryos. Using the CRISPR technique (see pp 104-105 in the text), they avoided editing errors and mosaicism (failure of some cells to take up the changes) that have been reported by Chinese researchers by editing the DNA at the moment the eggs were fertilized with sperm. CNN, Aug 2, 2017; Nature, DOI:10.1038/nature23305. And to treat male-linked diseases, Diane Choi is experimenting with using CRISPR to edit genes in sperm. Inserting the DNA is difficult due to the sperm's tough fibrous covering, so her team has to zap the sperm with an 1100-volt pulse of electricity for one fiftieth of a second. Conference presentation reported in New Scientist, July 3, 2018.
    While these achievements could lead to treatments to prevent transmission of inheritable diseases to offspring, they also fuel controversy about the possibility of producing genetically enhanced "designer babies," widening the divide between the haves and have-nots of society. There is considerable resistance to going in that direction. A recent report from 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 then only as a last resort, such as when both parents have an inheritable disease that is caused by two copies of a mutation. Even this restrictive approach was seen as going too far by some groups. Science, Feb 14, 2017. But with the advent of a new blood test that could make reading a fetus's entire genome so simple it could become routine, the ethicists will be hard pressed to stay ahead of the issue. Prenatal Diagnosis, DOI: 10.1002/pd.5186 .