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K2 18b could be the next earth


Ok maybe that’s a stretch being that K2 18b is 110 light-years from earth but we do know a few things about K2 18b that would make it an excellent candidate for exploration if one day we figure out how to freeze people and send them there. For starters, K2 18b has a lot of water in its atmosphere and we know it lies within the Goldilocks zone. We have literally no idea if the planet has oxygen but hopefully we will soon have more answers.

Some have speculated that 2020 would be the year we find another habitable planet but with the delays in the James Webb telescope I’m not holding my breath. Fortunately the telescope has recently been finished and packed for deployment.

For those just tuning into the outer-space dreamer community, the James Webb telescope is a new generation of planet hunter telescopes that will hopefully tell us more than we currently know about the cosmos. What makes the James Webb telescope special is that its optimized for infrared spectrum therefore giving it us a much better look at our surroundings.

Does this mean aliens? I’m not sure. I do know that recent scientific advances have shown that it is indeed possible to hide infrared light signatures using simple passive technology. Whether or not aliens who are potentially millions of years ahead of us technologically will leave an infrared light signature is beyond my knowledge.

If you are interested in learning more I highly recommend checking https://spacenews.com/ for your latest and greatest space stories.

Interstellar visitors are common, but these two are very different.

Image: © M. Kornmesser/European Southern Observatory)
Image: © M. Kornmesser/European Southern Observatory)

If you have not done so yet, you may want to catch up about the interstellar visitor called “Oumuamua”. In short, Oumuamua which translates in native Hawaiian to the word “Scout”, is an elongated object that entered our solar system and left at an increased rate of speed that was not congruent with our understanding of comets or any other unearthly object in space. We still have not been able to explain what Oumuamua is, but the scientific community is split in many different ways. What we do know is that while it is possible for objects such as comets to change direction or speed due to melting or heating when nearing a star, we saw no evidence of discharge when viewing Oumuamua through a telescope.

After a few months of speculation and public discussion it was anybodies guess and people generally stopped talking about Oumuamua until now. It seems that we have yet another interstellar visitor dubbed C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). The only thing about Borisov that is surprising is that it behaves exactly how we would expect an object entering out solar system. This rises a lot of questions. One being, are there laws of physics or elementary interactions from other solar systems that we don’t understand? Was this some kind of automated space design? With technology constantly improving, we expect that there will be more objects to study in the coming years. Stay tuned to the ESA to learn more. http://www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Interstellar_2.0

The new gene editing technology that could soon replace CRISPR.


Just in case you haven’t heard, there is a relatively new Genome editing technology called CIRPSR CAS9. This technology has been making news around the world for several years now. CRISPR(short for crispr cas9), is a biological mechanism found in bacteria used to essentially repair DNA that has been edited by phages (bacterial virus’s). It is believed that because cells all evolved from one lineage CRISPR works on nearly any kind of cell including human cells. When Scientists discovered this,a new industry of affordable gene manipulation technology emerged. CRISPR is so affordable that anyone with a few hundred dollars can purchase the equipment required to apply CRISPR edits to cells.

While CRISPR is an amazing technology that has already been used to save lives and allow hobbyist biohackers to make glow in the dark beer; it is not perfect. Recent studies have shown that CRISPR is liable to damage the HP-53 gene in human cells which is responsible for initiating a cells auto-destruct mechanism in the event it is to become cancerous. CRISPR is likened to a pair of scissors, but the new technology so far dubbed “prime-editing”, is allegedly like a word processor capable of replacing vast amounts of DNA with excellent precision. Some call it the next step towards a holy grail of DNA editing.

We will not know more until more is published, but hopefully some of the pitfalls of CRISPR can be bypassed with this technology. For example, it is very difficult to edit human immune cells with CRISPR. This makes it hard to eliminate HIV from the human genome without performing complete procedures to modify stem cells via bone marrow transplant. While these methods have cured a very small handful of people, they are not quite deemed safe or reproducible at scale.

Regardless we are very excited about this technology and we will stay tuned with any prime-editing updates from scientific community. To read more check out this article from the Harvard Crimson https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/10/25/mit-harvard-new-gene-technology/

Will HIV Draw its Last Breath in 2020?


Will HIV Draw its Last Breath in 2020?

In case you have not been reading medical news every day like us; there have been BIG developments in HIV research, genetic engineering technology, and bioinformatics research. A number of scientific communities have postulated that 2020 will be the end of HIV. Here are some of the recent breakthroughs.

The second confirmed cure happened in 2019

Over ten years ago in Berlin, a man named Timothy Ray Brown was cured using an experimental bone marrow transplant. This procedure involved stem cells from an immune donor and was performed by Dr. Gero Hütter. Recently, another patient was given the same procedure only this time the donation came from stem cells gathered from an umbilical cord. Multiple research labs including independent “Biohackers”, (people running labs out of their garages), are working on replicating this feat in various ways.

The switch to enabling the HIV reservoir has finally been found.

This HIV reservoir refers to dormant cells whose DNA has been modified by the HIV virus to incorporate the viral genome into its own. Viruses tend to insert themselves in strange places. The replication mechanism used by HIV randomizes its own genome to such a degree that when these dormant cells wake up the antibodies are nowhere to be seen. As a result, the body has to recognize and fight off a new virus every time. The significance of waking up the reservoir is that we can now give a patient the ability to continually fight and recognize the virus. This prevents the immune system from being destroyed or even potentially reverses the damage. This combined with gene therapies and or a vaccine to give someone more powerful antibodies will likely lead to a functional HIV cure.

There is an HIV vaccine that works.

Despite recent controversies, the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has made huge strides in HIV vaccine development. There has been numerous HIV vaccine attempts in the past that while in some cases provide a level of protection against a few strains in a few people, there have not been any HIV vaccine candidates that are effective enough by FDA standards to be considered a viable option to prevent the spread of the virus.. Until now.

Johnson & Johnson has paired up with bioinformatic’s specialists to create a mosaic of HIV RNA that holds the key parts of HIV common to nearly 100% of HIV strains and in preliminary testing, this Vaccine appears to elicit an immune response in everyone it has been tested on. This vaccine is currently undergoing a massive scale test in South African ad we expect to learn more soon. In combination with new drugs that can effectively target the HIV reservoir a vaccine like this could likely be an integral part of a functional cure.

Be Excited!

When HIV has first discovered it was a certain death sentence for everyone outside a sliver of individuals who were born with genetic mutations that either prevented HIV from infecting their bodies or allowed their bodies to effectively control the virus early enough to stop it from giving them full-blown AIDS. In 2019 we are already underway in the testing and development of effective and tested technologies designed to provide functional cures for HIV. There are countless independent experiments underway that show promise serve as an equalizing force that is sure to keep big pharma innovating in order to compete with the market. 

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Image: © M. Kornmesser/European Southern Observatory)

Interstellar visitors are common, but these two are very different.

If you have not done so yet, you may want to catch up about the interstellar visitor called "Oumuamua". In short, Oumuamua...