Precision Medicine, Planetary Compadres (Abstract Science: Aug. 12-16)
Brain scans show effects of Zika, meet Earth's newest—and closest neighbor, and the imprecise nature of precision medicine.
(New York Times, 8/23/2016, Pam Belluck)
A study of brain scans and ultrasound pictures of 45 Brazilian babies whose mothers were infected with Zika in pregnancy shows that the virus can inflict serious damage to many different parts of the fetal brain beyond microcephaly, the condition of unusually small heads that has become the sinister signature of Zika. The images, published Tuesday in the journal Radiology, also suggest a grim possibility: Because some of the damage was seen in brain areas that continue to develop after birth, it may be that babies born without obvious impairment will experience problems as they grow.
(Science, 8/24/2016, Daniel Clery)
Eureka focuses mostly on the life sciences industry, but we couldn't resist a story about the discovery of a planet, 4.2 light years away, that is remarkably like ours. Proxima b is a slightly bigger planet than Earth and revolves around Earth's closest star, Proxima Centauri. Is it habitable? Scientists reporting in Nature this week say the exoplanet is well within the range of orbits in which liquid water could exist on its surface, but the planet isn't particularly welcoming for life. It's probably tidally locked, meaning that it always presents the same face to the star, resulting in permanent day and night sides with huge differences in temperature. Thanks to its closeness to Proxima Centauri, the planet also receives 100 times as much high energy radiation as Earth, in the form of ultraviolet light and X-rays.
(NEJM, 8/24/2016, David J. Hunter)
By definition, precision medicine implies a higher degree of certainty of an outcome because the treatments can be customized for each patient. But Harvard epidemiologist David J. Hunter argues, in a perspective in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, that the opposite will be the case. "The new tools for tailoring treatment will demand a greater tolerance of uncertainty and greater facility for calculating and interpreting probabilities than we have been used to as physicians and patients," he writes.
—Compiled by Senior Scientific Writer Regina McEnery