AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: innovation

Modifying Genes to Cure a Blood Disease?

Helen Bolando, a 16 year old living with sickle cell disease, recently became the youngest recipient of an experimental treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital. This treatment made her the youngest person to have her DNA manipulated in hopes of reversing sickle cell’s effects. 

What is sickle cell disease?

Sickle cell disease is a disorder caused by a gene mutation that causes the shape of blood cells to resemble that of a crescent. Characteristics of sickle disease include a low red blood cell count and frequent infections. Due to their shape, blood cells in individuals with sickle cell cells break down too early, causing a lack thereof. This lack of blood cells is known as sickle cell anemia and causes a multitude of symptoms ranging from fatigue and shortness of breath, to delayed growth in children. Painful episodes are also common due to the shape of the red blood cells. Their crescent shape causes blockages in blood vessels, depriving organs and tissues of oxygen, sometimes leading to organ failure. 

A new gene therapy?

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have found that hemoglobin genes (genes found in the blood) are only active in the preceding red blood cells. These genes are only active for 4-5 days before red blood cells mature and when they’re active, they communicate with other cells through communication such as long distance signaling, as we’ve learned earlier in our bio class . The question for researchers is as follows: “How do you manipulate a gene, or put a gene in, so it is expressed only in those cells and at high levels?”  New treatments to solve this burning question include the extraction of immature blood cells from patient’s bone marrow. These stem cells are then genetically modified and re-infused in hopes of creating new, healthy blood cells. Even more interestingly, scientists have found that fetal blood cells have an absence of sickle cells and are testing ways to block the gene that stops fetal hemoglobin production and begins that of adult hemoglobin.Bluebird Bio, a biotech company in Cambridge, Mass conducted a study during which nine patients were treated with gene therapy. Results stated that four patients of the nine who were  treated at least six months earlier, produced enough hemoglobin to no longer have the symptoms of sickle-cell disease!

Researchers are making incredible strides in solving this painful disease using extremely creative and innovative techniques! Are there any other methods of solving sickle cell disease you can think of  based on what we’ve learned so far about cell communication? 



No More Water Damage?

Have you ever dropped your phone in water? If so you know the horrible feeling of “my phone is ruined”! But this whole situation can now be avoided with a recent discovery made by a British based firm called “P2i“. This firm is known for being the leaders in liquid repellent. The company was established in 2004; it was developed by the United Kingdom government’s defense science and technology laboratory (DSTL). Their new nano-coating is talked about in an article on CNN.


Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns

Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns


Their latest discovery is a liquid repellent nano-coating that provides a watertight solution. Simply spray the nano-coating onto a surface and liquids will be repelled. The trick is a “patented chemical that lowers an objects surface energy”, when the surface energy is lowered the “liquid forms beads upon contact and rolls off with out being absorbed”. This special chemical is extremely small- 50 nanometers wide (which is 1,000 times thinner than a human hair)!

The chemical sprays on clear which makes it invisible to the naked eye. So spray this on your iPhone or any mobile device and it won’t look a bit different. Stephen Coulson, the chemical engineer who invented this new technology stated “You look at it and you can’t see any change. But when you drop water on it, it will just bead up and drop off. More importantly, the internals will also be protected to prevent corrosion damage”.

Interestingly, the British Ministry of Defense started the question of whether water repellent chemicals could work- specifically to protect its soldiers during attack. They wanted uniforms that could resist all types of liquids including chemical weapons. So P2i created clothes for the British Army.

Continuing with their success, P2i now works with Motorola and TCL Alcatel. But they are not only limited to electronics, recently they began working with  shoe-makers K-Swiss, Nike and Adidas. P2i is now experimenting with formula one racing cars, tennis balls and surfboards. Coulson stated “we see the future as everything being treated with P2i’s technology”. Here is a video from CNN talking with P2i about the nano-coating. What do you think of this new product?







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