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Can anything be done to make gluten-free bread taste better?

NGS, WGS, and CRISPR news roundup: brain editing, vaccine development, and cancer screening
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Here’s the latest news from the worlds of next generation sequencing, whole genome sequencing, and CRISPR.

New tool can edit specific parts of the brain

A team of scientists has developed a new gene editing tool that can target specific cells or organs, including specific areas of the brain.

The process, which was performed in mice, involves crossing the blood brain barrier to precisely deliver gene-editing packages. Researchers used lipid nanoparticles that encapsulate the editing enzymes and carry them to specific organs, tissues, and cells.

The surfaces of the lipid nanoparticles were modified so they could attach specifically to certain cell types, fuse with their membranes, and release a gene-editing enzyme into cells.

"We created a method around tailoring the delivery package for a wide range of potential therapeutics, including gene editing," said Tufts University biomedical engineer associate professor Qiaobing XuXu. "The methods draw upon combinatorial chemistry used by the pharmaceutical industry for designing the drugs themselves, but instead we are applying the approach to designing the components of the delivery vehicle."

Treatment decisions changed after conducting NGS on sarcoma patients

The use of NGS found that more than one-third of patients with sarcoma potentially had actionable mutations, according to a new study.

Based on that, treatment decisions in 8% of patients were changed.

The results of the study were presented during a the 2020 Connective Tissue Oncology Society conference, according to Oncology Nursing News.

New treatment decisions included administering encorafenib, copanlisib, alectinib, and nivolumab, among others.

Researchers conducted a retrospective analysis to characterize the effects of NGS testing results on clinical decisions. The analysis was prompted by increasing rates of NGS in sarcoma patient care.

The analysis also found that NGS testing surged in 2019.

Using CRISPR to create a vaccine to tackle a common parasite

A Swiss research team announced that it is working on a vaccine that would make changes to a parasite's genome to render it non-pathogenic.

The team is targeting the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which infects cats, who can pass the infection to other animals and humans.

“The CRISPR/Cas9 technology enables the introduction of single point and insertion/deletion mutations, precise integration of in-frame epitope tags, and deletions of genes at reduced time and cost compared to previous methods,” the authors wrote. “Current protocols for CRISPR-mediated genome editing in T. gondii rely on either constitutive or transient expression of Cas9 as well as target specific sgRNAs encoded separately or together on transfected plasmid vectors.”

Lung cancer screening

Tumor tissue and plasma testing for lung cancer detection are not interchangeable, an industry expert recently told OncLive, and while the two tests have seen huge advancements in detecting abnormalities in patients with lung cancer, tumors shedding DNA into the bloodstream can contribute to a lack of concordance.

In particular, said Andrew Mckenzie, PhD, plasma-based testing can be used to detect the emergence or disappearance of mutations in patients with disease that is difficult to biopsy or bone-only.

“We still believe that the gold standard for next generation sequencing is tissue-based sequencing,” he said. “Particularly, tissue-based tests that can detect RNA fusion events that are a bit more difficult to pick up on the DNA side or the plasma side. We put them in 2 different buckets even though some [institutions] use them interchangeably. We're trying to [teach them] that this isn't really the way that we should go about it.”

Whole genome sequencing used for family cancer syndrome and rare genetic disorders

A hospital in Germany announced recently that it would replace diagnostic exome sequencing with whole genome sequencing for a variety of genetic conditions.

The hospital, University Hospital Tübingen, calls the new project Ge-Med and said it was borne from a two-year study that falls in line with similar efforts to apply whole genome sequencing (WGS) clinically, including programs led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Stanford’s Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease.

A spokesperson for the hospital said that five years ago, the facility switched all of its gene sequencing panels to diagnostic exome sequencing. The more recent switch to whole exome sequencing was based on a study that investigated its use on retinal disease, childhood cancer, and developmental delay.

For now, while WGS costs more, the process is easier and overall less expensive for calling different variant types from a single genome assay than combining exome sequencing with other assays that require different equipment and additional personnel.

Can CRISPR make gluten-free bread taste any better?

Not everyone likes eating gluten-free bread, charges Fast Company, but people with celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, or wheat allergies don’t have much of a choice. A startup called Ukko, however, wants to make gluten-free bread taste better.

The company is using artificial intelligence to figure out which proteins in gluten are triggering the immune system, then applying CRISPR Cas-9 to remove the issue from wheat, says Fast Company.

“We will end up having a gluten that is functional and wonderful, but doesn’t trigger the immune system,” Ukko CEO Anat Binur said.

Ukko is also working on a line of therapeutics aimed at helping people with food allergies, including allergies to peanuts.

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