If you were to imagine covering the biotech and life sciences news of a particular state like Texas, what would the sum total of your news stories look like at the end of the year? You might assume that the news would be dominated research notes, Greek words for exotic diseases, and a lot of technical jargon that only a learned research could navigate. In point of fact, however, the top stories on BioNews Texas for 2013 reveal just how broad of a topic “Texas biotech” can be.
To be sure, there has been a lot of science and research-related news coverage that serves as the backbone of BioNews Texas‘ daily reportage. However, among the really big stories of the year you’ll find business, politics, scandal, innovation — a broad spectrum of compelling stories that show just how important this sector is to the state of Texas.
The following list was compiled by analyzing the top 10 news article with the most unique views on BioNews Texas:
(by Ayesha Khan)
As a topic, triple negative breast cancer became a hotbed issue in the news this year, thanks to actress Angelina Jolie’s preemptive double-mastectomy in order to avoid such diseases. BioNews Texas covered her story, which surprisingly misused the top ten most popular articles by just a few places. However, this article, which covered how a team of researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston used the novel subtype definitions of Triple Negative Breast Cancer in order to ascertain responses to chemotherapy. Is has been a popular story throughout the year, and recently connected to a report on how a new Breast Cancer Study Reveals Genomic Tests Better Predict Chemotherapy Response.
(by Michael Nace)
News of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) moving to give captive chimpanzees used for research the same “endangered” status as their counterparts in the wild was a big, controversial story in 2013, and the mainstream coverage on the issue was largely lop-sided, quoting mostly animal rights activists. BioNews Texas reached out to some major research influencers in the state of Texas, including Texas Biomed, to try and balance the media coverage of the story, and shedding light on how this move could potentially prevent chimpanzees’ use for critical research aimed at developing more effective treatments for Hepatitis B, as well as treatments and vaccines for other serious diseases that plague mankind. We were the only news publication to offer up the other side of this debate.
(by Ayesha Khan)
While it may seem like an unlikely popular topic at first, Clostridium Difficile was a big story in Texas biotech this year. With an increasingly big focus on superbugs and medical costs, C. Diff is a bacterial infection that triangulates the problem, with an increase in hospital infections causing further medical complications that lead to more sickness, sometimes death, and increased hospital costs.
Connected to this story, as well as many other stories through the year involving C. Diff has been Xenex’s innovative hospital disinfecting robot, which quickly and easily kills bacteria like C. Diff with great efficiency .
(by Charles Moore)
Readers don’t necessarily tune in to a biotech news resource to read about attempted murder — particularly when it involves two researchers from a cancer research and treatment center that has fast become a leader in its field. However, the story of MD Anderson breast cancer specialist Dr. Ana Maria Gonzalez-Angulo being charged with aggravated assault against her co-worker and erstwhile lover Dr. George Blumenschein, a specialist in lung and head and neck cancers, by allegedly attempting to spike his coffee with a toxic chemical masquerading as Splenda, did captivate both the biotech community in Texas, and news gawkers at large. It is a story that a news site like ours reports on begrudgingly to some extent, as it is a story that needs to be reported, though not one that we relished in.
6. Dallas Biotech Firm AveXis Spinal Muscular Atrophy Gene Therapy Product Gets FDA Fast Track Approval
(by Charles Moore)
There is a growing list of heartbreaking diseases known as “orphan diseases” that simply do not get the same level of funding, research, drug development, and press coverage than other high-profile diseases, mainly due to the fact that usually a small percentage of the population contracts them. Sadly, these orphan diseases often afflict children disproportionately. One such disease is Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a disease that is the most common genetic cause of infant mortality in the world, and the second most common inherited autosomal recessive disorder. Currently, there is no medical treatment for SMA. However, Dallas-based AveXis is working on a SMA treatment that is so promising that the FDA has fast-tracked it toward mainstream use. The Phase I clinical trial of a systemic AAV9-delivered human SMN gene is set to begin in early 2014. Hopefully, this story will make the top 10 in 2014 as well.
5. “One of the first things a vulture will do is take the eyes out” — Texas State Forensic Anthropology Center Leaves Corpses Out To Rot For Forensic Study
(by Susan Ardizzoni)
There’s no doubt that advancing the study of forensic pathology is critical to giving law enforcement the tools it needs to solve crimes. However, this story, which highlighted how the Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University in San Marcos utilizes a space on their property to let the naked, uncovered corpses of volunteers who have donated their bodies to forensic research in order for students and researchers to study the process of human decomposition. The story was enough to stoke debate on the balance between the advancement of science and the macabre nature that often conflicts with what popular hegemony considers ethical treatment of a dead body.
4. Texas A&M: Siberian Boy’s 24,000-Year-Old Skeleton Genome Reveals First Native Americans Share European Ancestry
(by Charles Moore)
While the crux of BioNews Texas’ news coverage has to do with research of diseases and the creation of treatments, stories about space, technology, history, and even archaeology frequently capture the imaginations of our readers. This was particularly in the case of a Texas A&M TAMU Times report, which noted that a DNA study of skeletal remains believed to be that of a young boy who lived and died about 24,000 years ago in Siberia could turn the archaeological world on its head by suggesting that the ancient child’s genome shows that while up to one-third of his ancestry can be traced back to Europe, nearly 30 percent of modern Native Americans’ ancestry also came from this youngster’s gene pool.
3. Texas Biotech Startup TeVido BioDevices Developing 3-D Printing Technology For Breast Reconstruction
(by Charles Moore)
Recently, the journal Science named cancer immunotherapy the big science breakthrough for the year 2013, with MD Anderson cancer researcher Dr. James Allison leading the way in developing what could become the next cancer vaccine. However, from a technological standpoint, 3D printing could very well be considered a close runner-up for the big breakthrough in 2013. The year saw the rise of 3D printers being able to print everything from handguns to female breasts. BioNews Texas‘ story on Austin-based TeVido BioDevices’ incredible 3D printing technology for reconstructing the female breast through their own printing process, which can fabricate breast tissue to be used in breast reconstruction after a lumpectomy. The process would use a women’s own fat cells as a potential alternative to months of filling the void left by a lumpectomy with a series of fat injections that can be further slowed by reabsorption into the body.
2. Texas Company Pioneering Personalized DNA Sequencing Contributes to Genetic Disease Research in Jewish Population
(By Charles Moore)
Genomics and DNA sequencing dominated the Texas biotech news cycle this year, what with the landmark Supreme Court ruling on the non-patentability of DNA tests, such as BCMA1 for breast cancer. This issue put Houston-based Gene By Gene squarely into the news, as they provide DNA sequencing for a wide range of diagnostic and historical purposes. This particular focused on how ethnocultural genetics can potentially predict an individual’s susceptibility to certain diseases, such as in the case of Ashkenazi Jews, who have been found to be more susceptible to roughly 20 to 30 genetic diseases than the general population, with many acting as carriers for at least one illness-inherited disease due to inherited genetic mutations and traits.
(by M.W. Byrne)
The earlier story of the role that research chimpanzees play in the research for a Hepatitis B cure relates directly to the most read science story of the year on BioNews Texas, which is Texas Biomed’s encouraging work toward finalizing a cure for this terrible disease. New research from Texas Biomed, together with a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, has proven itself able to destroy cells infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in chimpanzees that have the chronic form of the disease. The research is giving hope to millions of patients afflicted with this disease.
The compilation of these ten top stories of 2013 creates an interesting mosaic of news coverage coming out of the Texas biotech sector. Here’s to a 2014 filled with new and engaging stories of landmark research coming out of the Lone Star State.