CRISPR Beyond Gene-Edited Babies


Photo credit: Shutterstock

In late November, it was hard to miss the shocking claim that a Chinese researcher used CRISPR, a relatively new gene-editing technique, on twin baby girls while in the embryonic state. According to the Associated Press, the researcher, He Jiankui, said his goal “was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have—an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.”

The procedure was quickly denounced by many scientists as unsafe and unethical, with the potential to harm not only the girls’ genes, but also their offspring. Many articles on the subject followed, debating the ethics and safety of the work. Adding to the controversy is that the research has yet to be verified in a peer-reviewed journal.

But how did we get here? What is CRISPR and its intended use? For people who want a little more background on this groundbreaking technique, and its importance beyond the latest headlines, we invite you read our new briefing paper on CRISPR and its use in neuroscience—both as a research tool and, potentially, a treatment for brain-related disorders.

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Series Combats Disorders: First Up, Epilepsy

caveat logo.JPGPeople with epilepsy were once thought to be possessed by demons or evil spirits. Dubbed “the sacred disease,” epilepsy was profoundly misunderstood for centuries, even after the disorder was explained to be of human origin. So why is it, so many years later, that epilepsy is still not fully understood? And why is there still so much stigma attached to a disorder which affects approximately one in 26 people in the United States?

Caveat NYC, BraiNY, and the Epilepsy Foundation are attempting to eliminate that stigma. Last week saw the first part of a three-part event series, titled “A Lot On The Mind: Epilepsy.” Held at Caveat at 21 A Clinton St. in Manhattan and open to the public, tickets are $15 each. Each event in the series is hosted by Stephanie Rogers, a Ph.D. candidate at New York University and an adjunct instructor at Fordham University. The series focuses on educating and demystifying misconceptions on epilepsy, autism, and Huntington’s Disease.


Stephanie Rogers. Photo: Caveat NYC

Rogers, whose sister suffers from untreatable epilepsy, began by showing slides that explained the origins and causes of epilepsy. They include brain infection, head trauma, brain tumor, and stroke, as well as a genetic link. However, as Rogers explained, the cause of epileptic seizures remains a mystery in many patients. Continue reading

From the Archives: Rita Levi-Montalcini

Levi-Montalcini_featDana Alliance member Piergiorgio Strata has just published “Rita Levi-Montalcini and her major contribution to neurobiology” in Rendiconti Lincei; its English version is open-access for reading via Springer Publishing. Its 17 pages are filled with family and science-family photos, including as she entered medical school and when she was awarded a Nobel Prize, and her major scientific collaborators, as well as classic illustrations of her work in neuroembryology and much more (she lived to age 103). Her personal story is inspiring—including doing seminal research at home during wartime in Italy after she was banned from entering formal research facilities because of her faith.

“Life does not end with death. What you pass on to others remains. Immortality is not the body, which will one day die. That does not matter… of importance is the message you leave to others,” said Levi-Montalcini, who was also a founding European Dana Alliance for the Brain member. We were working with her to publish a translation of her latest memoir into English when she died, in 2012. Continue reading

Sticker Design Contest: Entries Due October 15

With just about two weeks left to enter our second annual Sticker Design Contest, there’s still plenty of time to submit your design (if you haven’t already)!

The Dana Foundation is calling on artists, graphic designers, illustrators, and brain enthusiasts alike to come up with their own version of an image that captures the essence of our global Brain Awareness Week initiative to promote the promise and benefits of brain research. If chosen, your design could become the face of the 2019 campaign and printed on thousands of stickers for distribution at schools, brain fairs, lectures, and more! Not to mention, the top three finalists will receive a cash prize.

After five finalists are chosen anonymously by Dana staff, we leave it up to you—the public—to vote for your favorite! Last year, after receiving an overwhelming number of entries from people all over the world and of all ages, the public poll declared Canada’s Marianne Bacani our first-place winner.

For more information on how to submit, please read the contest guidelines on our website. We will only consider entries that adhere to these rules. All designs are due by 11:59 pm (EST) on October 15.

Contest entry is free, so what do you have to lose? Just don’t wait too long!

Dana Foundation to Expand Podcasts

CerebrumPodcast_Logo_NEW-01Today is International Podcast Day, which seems an appropriate opportunity to announce that the Dana Foundation plans to expand our podcast platform in the next few months.

I hope you’ve listened to our podcasts, which have been online since May of 2016 and feature the authors of Cerebrum, our monthly, magazine-style series. We think they fit nicely with Dana’s mission, which is to advance brain research and to educate the public in a responsible manner about these advances, and hope our audience finds it valuable to hear some of the top scientists in the field talk about their research and public policy issues.

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