From The Wall Street Journal:
Here are six of today's potentially transformative trends.
DNA Sequencing for Routine Checkups
At a genetics conference in November, Oxford Nanopore Technologies unveiled the first of a generation of tiny DNA sequencing devices that many predict will eventually be as ubiquitous as cellphones—it's already the size of one. Since the first sequencing of the human genome was completed in 2003 at a price tag of over $2 billion, the speed, price and accuracy of the technology have all improved. Illumina Inc. has dropped its price for individual readouts to $5,000; earlier this year, Life Technologies introduced a sequencer it says can map the human genome for $1,000. The smallest machine is now desktop-size. But nanopore sequencing devices, which are designed to be even smaller and more affordable, could speed efforts to make gene sequencing a routine part of a visit to the doctor's office. DNA molecules are exceedingly long and complicated; that makes them hard to read. Nanopore technology measures changes in the molecules' electrical current as the DNA is threaded in a single strand through tiny holes called “nanopores” created in a membrane.
Letting Your Body Fight Cancer
Few advances in cancer care are generating more enthusiasm than harnessing the power of the immune system to fight the disease. Tom Stutz is one reason why. Last April, the 72-year-old retired lawyer was confined to a wheelchair, struggling for every breath, and required help with simple tasks such as eating, all because of a previously diagnosed skin cancer that had spread to his lungs and liver. “I was ready to check out, to be honest,” he says. That month, he began taking an experimental drug known as MK3475. Six weeks later, he started feeling better. Today, Mr. Stutz has jettisoned the wheelchair and regularly walks a 3.5-mile loop near his home in Los Angeles. “I feel terrific,” says Mr. Stutz, who learned after a checkup in the fall that his tumors had shrunk by about 65% so far. For decades, cancer researchers have wondered why the immune system typically doesn't treat tumor cells as invaders and target them. Part of the mystery was recently solved: Tumors protect themselves by hijacking the body's natural brake for the immune system. MK3475, being developed by Merck & Co., is among a new category of drugs that release the brake, unleashing an army of immune cells to hunt down the cancer. A recent report from a trial in which Mr. Stutz participated said that of 85 patients who took the drug, 51% saw their tumors significantly shrink; in eight cases, the tumors couldn't be detected on imaging tests.