Arindam Halder discusses the wonders of 2022 and the promise of 2023
Organs revived in dead pigs
The year 2022 saw the development and testing (alpha) of a revolutionary technology that could help extend the health of human organs during surgery and expand availability of donor organs for transplant.
Death is scientifically defined as destruction of body’s cells and organs, within minutes of the final heartbeat, due to lack of blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients. A team of researchers from Yale University, was able to delay the decay, using a new technology, which delivers a specially designed cell-protective fluid to organs and tissues. This restored blood circulation and other cellular functions in pigs a full hour after their deaths.
This research is one-step ahead of the research done in 2019, in the lab of Yale’s Nenad Sestan, the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Neuroscience and professor of comparative medicine, genetics, and psychiatry. A technology named BrainEx was developed to restore circulation and certain cellular functions in the brain of a dead pig. In the new study, the researchers applied a modified version called OrganEx to the whole pig. It consists of a perfusion device such as heart-lung machines, which functions as heart and lungs during surgery, and an experimental fluid containing compounds that can promote cellular health and suppress inflammation throughout the pig’s body. Cardiac arrest was induced in anesthetized pigs, which were treated with OrganEx an hour after death.
The OrganEx technology has pathbreaking potential applications:
• It could extend the life of organs in humans and expand the availability of donor organs for transplants
• It would also be able to help treat organs or tissue damaged by ischemia during heart attacks or strokes
Life synthesis from scratch
Mouse embryos “born” without sperm or eggs
Built from the bottom up, synthetic cells and other creations are coming together and could soon test the boundaries of life. In Summer 2022 scientists grew an embryo in a lab without a sperm, or eggs, or a womb. It was a mouse, but the species is of secondary importance. The important thing is that using only stem cells, a team at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel forged something in the lab, which grew a tail on day six, budded a beating heart by day eight and even evinced the inklings of a brain.
This makes giant leaps in our ability to grow synthetic organs and more closely research the relationships between embryonic mutations and developmental diseases.
Researchers have been trying to create synthetic cells from the last 2 decades, but recent advances in microfluidic technologies, which helps to coordinate the movements of minuscule cellular components, the pace of the work has accelerated. Research groups have already determined ways of sculpting cell-like blobs into desired shapes; of creating rudimentary versions of cellular metabolism; and of transplanting hand-crafted genomes into living cells, especially in mimicking the membranes that surround cells and compartmentalize internal components.
Researchers use microfluidic chips to create liposomes, using a six-way junction, which fills the liposomes with a solution containing 1-octanol, a lipid bilayer. Over time, excess lipids and 1-octanol pool at one end and spontaneously break-off, forming liposomes.
The age of vaccine redefined
The cavalry is coming, novel therapies for malaria and all influenza strains
2020-21 might just have marked the era of vaccine breakthroughs, and the mRNA vaccines that blunted the mortality of COVID were just the beginning. In September 2022, a new malaria vaccine developed by the Oxford University scientists were found to be very effective. A trial involving 450 children in Burkina Faso, proved that three doses and one booster shot of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 80%. Malaria is not caused by a virus but by a shapeshifter called plasmodium, which has so far nulled out widespread vaccine attempts.
This is just the beginning, a universal flu vaccine is in an experimental phase in animals, which induces a protective immune response against all known types of flu. The influenza virus family is extensive, with at least 20 identified lineages.
Cancer therapy going through advances “unheard of”
Treatments close to miracles and an at-home tests
In a trial at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with 18 rectal-cancer patients, who were prescribed a novel immunotherapy, researchers found that the cancer vanished in every single patient. Few months later, a similar trial with a metastatic-breast-cancer drug produced similar results. A monoclonal antibody treatment targeting tumor cells with a mutant protein HER2, produced similar results.
A combination of pharmacogenomics and targeted treatments could fight cancer precisely, cell by cell, without requiring multiple rounds of painful chemotherapy. Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that a leading biopharmaceutical company introduced a lung-cancer pill, which targeted another genetic mutation called KRAS.
The best way to treat cancer, as we all know, is early detection, but it is very difficult as tumors are imperceptible until progressed. This year, a company called Grail launched a blood test called Galleri which can detect 50 types of cancer with a false positive rate below 1%. It is not yet approved by FDA, and is expensive, but an approved and affordable test like this will transform cancer care, once and for all.
The surge in Obesity-therapy which “actually” works
Weight-loss medication, that works wonders
4 out of 10 Americans are obese and the global statistics are not way off. Till now, the responsible solution of weight loss was “diet and exercise” or bariatric surgery. The past 18 months have redefined this, due to a happy accident. In 2010, diabetes treatment included Semaglutide, which resulted into massive loss of weight.
In 2022 the FDA approved injectable Semaglutide, under the name Wegovy. It works by mimicking naturally occurring hormones that regulate the release of insulin and by slowing down the pace at which the stomach empties. A similar medication called Tirzepatide, delivered a 20% reduction in patients’ body weight in its latest clinical trials, and is likely to gain FDA approval in 2023.
A leading biopharmaceutical company is also testing a medication called AMG-133, which shows a 14% reduction in first three months of highest dosage, in phase 1 trial. The phase II trials start in 2023.
Artificial meat becomes legal
A regulatory milestone
This breakthrough is not a technology, but a regulation by FDA. This year FDA cleared a California company, Upside Foods, to produce lab-grown chicken. Although the approval from the Department of Agriculture is still pending, to commercially sell the white meat grown in a lab. But this is a much-needed solution to a growing consumer base across the globe.
Arindam Halder is with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)