January 2009

1 January 2009

A new European policy briefing makes recommendations intended to speed the application of the interdisciplinary field of systems biology for medical research (12 January).

Genetics and disease

There have been many new studies relating to genetics and health in recent weeks, some of which may be seen at the end of this summary. In the news, we have looked at the potential implications for public health of new findings about genetic virulence factors in the influenza strain that caused the infamous 1918 pandemic (9 January), and of genetic susceptibility to the prion disease variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, CJD (13 January). Major new findings relating to the association between specific genetic variants and obesity have also been reported (19 December), including genes presumed to be involved in the neuronal control of weight regulation, and a new high-throughput technique for the detection of mutations including copy number variations has been announced (23 December).

Ethical, legal and social issues

In the US, the President’s Council of Bioethics have released a new report on the ethical implications of expanded newborn screening, in part with the aim of fostering public awareness and discussion (16 December), whilst the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the retention of DNA and cellular samples from two men who were not convicted of any crime in the UK National DNA Database violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (22 December). The Government announced an immediate removal of all samples from children aged below ten from the database, with a White Paper in 2009 expected to set out further modifications to current rules of retention. Also in the UK, there has been public debate fuelled by sometimes inaccurate reporting following the birth of the first baby to have been selected by prenatal genetic diagnosis as free from a BRCA mutation associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (9 January).

Stem cells and cloning

The results of new research that has successfully created an in vitro model of a genetic disease (spinal muscular atrophy) using induced pluripotent stem cells from an affected child are reported (5 January), along with various developments relating to the clinical translation and commercialisation of stem cell therapeutics (7 January). These include the release of new guidelines relating to translation from the International Society for Stem Cell Research, and a landmark ruling by the European Patent Office against a method for the derivation of stem cells from human embryos as being contrary to public order or morality.

New reviews and commentaries

Our selection of recent articles of interest (6 January)

Other recent news and research

See also the Genomics & Health Weekly Update from the CDC Office of Public Health Genomics.