It may be time for deep-dive reading on medical science’s horizons — editing the human genome, understanding inflammation’s role in health

Scientific research can move with such speed that it can be tough to keep up with it, as steady  advances pile on each other until progress once thought unheard of becomes commonplace. That’s why it can be enlightening to find timely, long-form reporting for savvy but not necessarily technical audiences on topics like human gene editing and the new importance some experts are giving to the role of inflammation in overall health.

In news terms, of course, there have been big developments in Washington about gene editing:  Global experts just gathered and decided that, for now, it would be scientifically possible but irresponsible to introduce changes that can be passed on in the human geonome.

As the New York Times reports, the DC session, which included, in a diplomatic-scientific coup, representatives from China, was convened to allow august research academies to weigh in on a critical controversy caused by:

“a new genetic technique, invented three years ago, that enables DNA to be edited with unprecedented ease and precision. The technique, known as Crispr-Cas9 and now widely accessible, would allow physicians to alter the human germline, which includes the eggs and the sperm, to cure genetic disease or even enhance desirable physical or mental traits. Unlike gene therapy, an accepted medical technique that alters the body’s ordinary tissues, editorial changes made to the human germline would be inherited by the patient’s children and thus contribute permanent changes to the human gene pool. These, if sufficiently extensive, might, in principle, alter the nature of the human species.”

For those who find that statement sufficiently wow-inducing to want to know more about this medical-scientific advance, the New Yorker recently has provided one of its detailed, colorful accounts of what it calls, “The Gene Hackers.”

As long as you’re going to give up more than a few hours engrossed in a deep dive about medical-scientific research, you also might want to take in the magazine’s piece on inflammation, what the New Yorker terms a topic subject to debate as a “cure all craze.” As author Jerome Groopman — he a notable physician researcher himself — describes the issue:

Using advanced technologies, scientists have discovered that heart attacks, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to smoldering inflammation, and some researchers have even speculated about its role in psychiatric conditions. As a result, understanding and controlling inflammation has become a central goal of modern medical investigation.”

Among the intriguing matters that this piece takes on is whether highly promoted dietary or pharmaceutical approaches can reduce inflammation, thereby improving the health of those struggling with conditions as diverse as arthritis, colitis, and aging. Hint: Be skeptical for now.

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