UK to launch 100,000 genomes project as Obama backs DNA drive

Gene research is getting a boost on both sides of the Atlantic, with scientists in England set to launch a project on Feb. 2 to analyse 100,000 entire human genomes and U.S. President Barack Obama backing a big new DNA data drive.

The twin projects show the accelerating work by researchers to understand the underlying basis of diseases and develop medicines targeted to the genetic profile of individual patients.

Obama will announce the U.S. plan to analyse genetic information from more than 1 million American volunteers on Friday as a central part of an initiative to promote so-called precision medicine, officials said.

The 100,000 genomes project in England, meanwhile, was first unveiled by the British government two years ago — but the 11 centres charged with collecting samples will only begin full-scale recruitment from next week. The aim is to complete the programme by the end of 2017.

Such large-scale genomic research has become possible because the cost of genome sequencing has plummeted in recent years to around $1,000 per genome. That is a far cry from 15 years ago when it cost some $3 billion to get the first human genome.

In the case of the British project, all the sequencing will be carried out by U.S. biotech company Illumina, which has pioneered fast and cheap technology to read genetic code.

The 100,000 genomes project is focussing on patients with rare diseases, and their families, as well as people with common cancers. The idea is to tease out the common drivers of disease to help develop better drugs and diagnostic tests.

The project will actually recruit around 75,000 participants, rather than 100,000, since people with cancer will provide two genomes — one derived from the healthy cells in their body and one from their tumour. By comparing the two, experts hope to find the exact genetic changes causing cancer.

Obama Signs Controversial GMO Food Label Law

AUG 1 2016

President Obama has signed a new law that would require all food labels to declare for the first time whether the item contains genetically modified ingredients.

Just how clear those labels are, however, is up for debate.

The new law, signed Friday and supported by the food industry, pre-empts a recently passed — and stricter — Vermont ruling that requires food to say “produced with genetic engineering.” Instead, companies will be allowed to either say that in plain words on the package, or provide a QR code, 1-800 number, or website for consumers to visit for more information.

Image: Milk is displayed on shelves in a Brooklyn supermarket on June 9 in New York City. Milk prices for Americans have been on the rise recently with a 7.5% price increase for a gallon of fortified whole milk from last year.
Milk is displayed on shelves in a Brooklyn supermarket on June 9 in New York City. Milk prices for Americans have been on the rise recently with a 7.5% price increase for a gallon of fortified whole milk from last year. 

Opponents argue that this type of labeling discriminates against lower-income families who may not have access to the technology required to learn further details.

Plus — when you’ve got a grabbing toddler in the stroller and you’re snagging crates of mac n’ cheese off the shelves, you probably won’t have time to be scanning bar codes.

A recent review of two decades of research and over 900 studies by the National Academy of Sciences has not found any evidence that genetically modified organisms pose a hazard to human health. But advocates say not enough is known about GMOs — and consumers want to know exactly what’s in their food.

Obama: U.S. opioid epidemic as great a threat as terrorism

President Obama said Tuesday that America’s addiction to pain killers is as great a threat as terrorism.

Here’s why: 78 people die each day from overdoses of opioids, prescription drugs and heroin. No place is immune.

Six minutes. That’s the goal in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Six minutes for EMTs to get a call about an opioid overdose, and get the victim breathing again.

Jocelyn Benvie revived her 22-year-old friend and called 911 after she took heroin and fell unconscious.

“It’s just really scary when you see your friend not breathing with purple lips, and you don’t know what you can do to help,” Benvie said.

Plymouth, population 56,000, is nick-named “America’s hometown.” Twenty-five people there died from heroin overdoses last year.

Across the country, opioid deaths — whether caused by pain pills or heroin — jumped 372 percent from 2000 to 2014.

That’s why President Obama told a heroin summit in Atlanta that the government is distributing $11 million to states for the overdose reversal drug often called Narcan.

In cities like Plymouth, 911 calls for overdoses are up 500 percent in two years. On weekends, it’s as many as four a day.

“The mean age of overdoses is dropping into the low 20’s. We’ve had opioid overdoses as low as 14 years old,” said EMT Jeff Jacobsen.

Davis Owen, a former high school class president, was 20 when he died from a heroin overdose.


All these kids are dying they’re no different than Davis. They’re high achievers. They’re fun. They’re beautiful kids from exceptional families. And they’re dropping like flies,” his mother said.

In all, the president proposed an additional $1.1 billion to combat this addiction — triple the current funding. But the issue is still, in the president’s words, “grossly under-resourced.”

Obama Launches HIV Cure Initiative, Ups Pledge For Global Health.


President Obama walks into an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building Monday for a speech about World AIDS Day.

President Obama walks into an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building Monday for a speech about World AIDS Day.

Carolyn Kaster/AP


Commemorating the 25th World AIDS Day a day late, President Obama announced an initiative Monday to find a cure for HIV infections that would be funded by $100 million shifted from existing spending.


“The United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries into how to put people into long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies — or better yet, eliminate it completely,” Obama said at a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.


The initiative reflects a growing optimism among scientists that it may be possible to get patients’ immune systems to control HIV without drugs, or even to eliminate the virus from their systems. A feat like that seemed impossible not so long ago. The moneywill come from expiring AIDS research grants over the next three years, the administration said in a statement.


The president also pledged $5 billion over the next three years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria if other countries contribute twice that amount. The Global Fund is holding its fourth replenishment meeting this week in Washington, with a goal of topping the $9.3 billion pledged three years ago.


And he signed legislation enacted last month to extend the 10-year-old President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, started by President Bush.


Obama boasted that PEPFAR has exceeded the goal — thought to be ambitious when he set it on World AIDS Day two years ago – of getting anti-HIV treatment to 6 million people in developing countries. “Today I’m proud to announce that we’ve not only reached our goal, we’ve exceeded our treatment goal,” he said. “We’ve helped 6.7 million people receive life-saving treatment, and we’re going to keep at it.”


Obama also noted that the waiting list for treatment under the federal-state AIDS Drug Assistance Program last week fell to zero, from a peak of 9,310 in the fall of 2011.


Apart from that domestic bright spot, however, a report card on how America is doing with its own HIV epidemic reveals only slow progress.


In a panel discussion following Obama’s remarks, Dr. Chris Beyrer of Johns Hopkins University pointed out that when PEPFAR and the Global Fund began, AIDS experts were betting it would be easier to combat HIV in targeted populations in America than to get millions of HIV-infected people in sub-Saharan Africa into treatment.


But the opposite has happened. “African-American men are about half as likely” to have their HIV infection under control as non-Hispanic white men, Beyrer says. “And two-thirds of new infections are among men who have sex with men.”


The White House report is thin on promising results, as one section puts it, and heavy on challenges.


For instance, a 2010 National AIDS Strategy set a goal of reducing new HIV infections in this country by 25 percent. But the incidence “remains unacceptably high,” the latest report says. And, in fact, new HIV infections increased 12 percent among men who have sex with men in the most recent figures – 22 percent among the youngest males, from 13 to 24 years old.


The strategy aimed to increase the percent of HIV-infected who know their status to 90 percent. But the most recent figures indicate undiagnosed HIV decreased by only 9 percent between 2006 and 2010. And fewer than half of those between ages 13 and 24 years are aware of their infection.


When it comes to effective anti-HIV treatment, fewer than half of Americans at highest risk – men who have sex with men, blacks and Latinos – get sufficient antivirals drugs to keep their HIV under control.


Still, there’s evidence that concerted efforts to combat HIV can pay off in the most heavily affected places. The report cites impressive gains in New York City, the District of Columbia and San Francisco.


“All three have made care and treatment very available, have ramped up testing and needle exchanges,” says Chris Collins, policy director of amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. “When you do that, you see infection rates fall.”


For instance, when Washington, D.C., increased publicly funded HIV testing from 400 tests in 2007 to 120,000 in 2011, newly diagnosed cases went down by almost half. Newly diagnosed cases have also fallen by half in New York City and San Francisco.


The proportion of HIV-treated people whose virus was suppressed has gone steadily up in New York City, especially after the health department recommended that all newly diagnosed patients should be offered anti-retroviral treatment. By the end of last year, nearly 8 in 10 were virally suppressed.