News Bites brings you 5 weekly news in bite-sized form.

1. US FDA approves first sickle cell drug in almost 20 years

On 7 July, the US FDA approved a new medicine known as Endari, to reduce the complications associated with sickle cell disease.

The drug, made by privately held Emmause Medical is the first new treatment for sickle cell disease to secure FDA approval in almost 20 years. However, the active ingredient in Endari, L-glutamine, can be purchased over the counter, complicating Emmaus' ability to obtain insurance coverage.

The clinical trial saw the reduction in frequency and length of hospital visits for sickle cell pain crises for those treated with Endari over 48 weeks, compared to the placebo. Side effects include constipation, nausea and headaches.

2. Metastasis of cancer cells now on video

The pathway of how cancer cells metastasise in the body has been captured in videos by scientists at the University of Tokyo and the RIKEN Quantitative Biology Centre.

The research has been on mice so far, but it is hoped that the method could provide insight to better treatment.

The mice were injected with cancerous tissue engineered to fluoresce. The disease was left to progress before chemicals that made cells highly transparent, known as CUBIC (Clear Unobstructed Brain/Body Imaging Cocktail), were injected into the mice.

This allowed the body to be rapidly imaged and the location of any cancerous tissue detected. Normal body tissues appeared green while cancer tissue appeared as intense red spots.

3. Meningitis B vaccine could protect against drug-resistant gonorrhoea

A new study by researchers in New Zealand, suggests a meningitis B vaccine may be able to protect against drug-resistant gonorrhoea.

The team discovered that the rate of gonorrhoea among teens and young adults who received the meningitis B vaccine during an emergency campaign in the early 2000s was significantly lower than the rate in people of the same age who were not vaccinated.

Researchers in Quebec, Cuba and Norway all reported similar phenomena separately, hinting the vaccine's unexpected benefit. The findings are only observational and clinical trials will need to be conducted to see if the effect is due to the meningococcal B vaccine. If confirmed, gonorrhoea can be prevented and controlled better.

4. Eye microbiome defend against eye infections

An international team of scientists have discovered a species of beneficial bacterium living on the eyes of mice that can help fight pathogenic species that cause conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

Related species of bacteria have also been found on human eyes. The species was identified as Corynebacterium mastitidis, commonly known to live on human skin.

The scientists demonstrated that its presence helped fend off eye infetions. Tears from mice with C. mastitidis were found to be more lethal to pathogenic strains of the fungi Candida albicans and Pseudomonas bacteria compared to tears of mice lacking the bacteria.

It is also believed to be a symbiotic relationship as the bacteria plays a beneficial role by turning on immune pathways which keeps the eye loaded with antimicrobials and pathogen-killing immune cells, while the eye provides a non-competitive environment for the bacteria to live in.

5. Gif and image encoded into bacterial DNA

The researchers encoded an image of a human hand into the bacterial DNA. Photo credit: Seth Shipman/BBC
The researchers encoded an image of a human hand into the bacterial DNA. Photo credit: Seth Shipman/BBC

Scientists from Harvard University have managed to utilise the genome editing tool, CRISPR, to insert a gif ̶ five frames of a horse galloping ̶ into the DNA of bacteria.

The researchers did this by transferring the image and movie onto nucleotides, producing a code that related to the individual pixels of each image.

Two proteins were used to insert the genetic code into the DNA of target cells. For the gif, sequences were delivered frame-by-frame over five days to the bacterial cells and the data were spread across the genomes of multiple bacteria, rather than just one.

The gif and image was then retrieved, by sequencing the bacterial DNA and using a custom computer code to unscramble the genetic information, which produces the images, verifying that the microbes were able to incorporate the data as intended. A 90% accuracy was recorded.

The team intends to use the technique to create "molecular recorders" to find out what is going on in the cell and its environment based on the cell's genome. MIMS

Read more:
News Bites: PPIs found to increase risk of early death, Mini colons in-a-dish could allow personalised drug testing
News Bites: Microneedle patch could replace flu vaccines, Tick saliva could pave way for a range of new drugs
News Bites: Preeclampsia may be linked to babies' DNA, Vaccine can lower "bad" cholesterol and heart attacks