Tokyo’s Olympics may become known as the ‘Robot Games’
By STEPHEN WADE
AP Sports Writer
Friday, March 15
TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo’s Olympics may become known as the “Robot Games.”
Organizers on Friday showed off robots that will be used at the new National Stadium to provide assistance for fans using wheelchairs.
Tokyo Olympic official Masaaki Komiya pointed out that Japan is known for its robot technology, and the 2020 Summer Games are a good place to show off.
“Robots should not overwhelm people,” Komiya, the vice director general to the Tokyo Olympics, told a news conference. “Robots are something that have an amicable relationship with human beings and can work together. That’s the kind of robots we envision.”
The robots are made by major Olympic sponsor Toyota Motor Corp. Toyota officials said 16 of the so-called “human support robots” will be used at the National Stadium with five other “delivery support robots” also being available.
Not to be outdone, Panasonic Corp.— also a major Olympic sponsor — showed off its “power assist suit.” When worn, the suit offers support to the back and hip area and allows for heavy objects to be lifted with less effort. Panasonic said 20 of the suits will be used at the Olympics and could help guests with their luggage and with other lifting chores.
“Through this occasion, people in the world will be able to realize how advanced Japan is in terms of robot technology,” Hideyo Hirata, director of technology services for the Tokyo Olympics, told reporters.
Minoru Yamauchi of Toyota, the general manager for 2020 Robot Development, said the automaker is branching out and becoming a “mobility company.”
“We have been looking at how we can support the daily lives of people, and how we can develop robots that can partner with daily life,” Yamauchi said. “In the Tokyo Olympics, there will be many guests in wheelchairs and we would like them enjoy the games without worrying about their mobility.”
Yoshifumi Uchida, general manager of Panasonic’s Paralympic department, said its power assist suit technology was developed partly because of Japan’s aging population. This could help get more women and the elderly into the working population.
“We would like to have a society where people can work without caring about gender differences or age differences,” Uchida said. “When you are carrying a suitcase or a heavy box, this is where the power assist suit becomes valuable.”
He said the suits would also be used away from the venues in “related facilities and airports.”
He said the suit improved “efficiency” by about 20 percent, allowing the wearer to lift more, and for a longer time.
Battery life if about four hours, and the suit gives the wearer the ability to lift about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) more with the same energy expended.
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Can a genetic test predict if you will develop Type 2 diabetes?
Updated March 12, 2019
Author: Mylynda Massart, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
Disclosure statement: Mylynda Massart has received an educational research grant from 23andMe to develop education in genomics for primary care residents. Mylynda Massart is a co-investigator for the All of Us Pennsylvania research study.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When I got home after work I was surprised to find my husband and three children sitting by the television and watching the news. They had just learned that the direct to consumer genetic testing company 23andMe was now offering a report that assessed the customers’ risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. “Is it true?” my husband asked. “Can they now study my genes and predict whether I will get Type 2 diabetes?”
As a primary care physician who is exploring how to integrate genetic testing into traditional family medicine – a combination we now describe as precision medicine – I was excited to explain the science behind this new report and the barriers to using 23andMe’s new diabetes risk score in current clinical care.
As a family physician, I am eager to identify my patients most at risk for developing diabetes, as this is a very costly and debilitating disease with numerous health consequences such as kidney failure, heart disease, painful neuropathy and limb amputation. In the U.S. alone more than 30 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes and of these 7.2 million are undiagnosed and unaware of their condition. Another 84.1 million adults older than 18 are at high risk and considered prediabetic. So how did 23andMe calculate this risk score, and would it help the millions who were unaware of their state of health?
Calculating risk of Type 2 diabetes
As my family sat down to a carbohydrate-rich dinner of pasta, my famous pesto pizza rolls and a salad, I explained how this direct-to-consumer testing service was calculating the risk of this complex disease that is caused by the interaction of diet, environment and thousands of genes.
The piece of the puzzle that 23andMe is calculating is called the “polygenic risk score,” which is the likelihood we were born with of developing certain diseases or conditions.
Polygenic risk scores are not based on single genes or mutations. Instead, these calculations look at the cumulative effect of thousands of small variations scattered throughout our genomes. Not all variations cause harmful effects, some are beneficial and boost health, decreasing the odds of developing diabetes. Each one of these variations alone may not have a significant impact on our health, but together they add up to increased risk of developing certain types of disease. According to 23andMe, the polygenic risk score for Type 2 diabetes was based on research using the shared DNA of their consumers.
The DNA data the company is collecting is not just to report results back to the consumer; some 2.5 million 23andMe customers have consented to allow the company to use their DNA for research. So can this polygenic risk score tell us our increased likelihood or susceptibility to developing diseases such as diabetes?
The short answer is yes.
With advances in genomics and large repositories of genetic data from the general public, scientists have now identified how certain genetic variants raise or lower risk of a particular disease and use these associations to calculate a risk score. In an article published in Nature Genetics last year in 2018, the researchers reported polygenic risk scores that identified individuals with as much as three times the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. That number certainly caught my family’s attention. This means that if your average risk as an American of developing a specific disease is 1 out of 100, then your new risk could increase to 3 out of 100.
Polygenic risk: Just part of the equation
While your genetics might actually tell you that you are at a higher risk for developing diabetes, that is not the whole story. In addition to genetic predisposition, it is important to factor in an individual’s environment.
When it comes to diabetes, the environmental factors are largely nutrition and activity. A diet low in sugar and carbohydrates, which I normally advocate for, when I am not feeding my family pasta, and an active lifestyle can override our genetic predisposition for diabetes. It can also control diabetes after a diagnosis.
The key question, as researchers and physicians wrangle with incorporating more genetic data into health care, is how will individuals react to learning that they are genetically predisposed to developing diabetes? Will they use this knowledge to implement and sustain the lifestyle changes necessary to mitigate that risk?
Lifestyle changes like this are not easy. Many people make New Year’s pledges to exercise more and lose weight, but just two months into the year, some 80 percent of people fail to make those resolutions stick. We don’t know yet whether genetic knowledge will inspire people to commit to new lifestyles.
Won’t an annual check up detect developing diabetes?
You might be wondering: Can’t my primary care physician order lab tests to gauge my overall health and detect developing diabetes?
This is a great point. There are tests to measure for Type 2 diabetes. Conventional screening tests may include the monitoring of fasting blood sugar; measuring hemoglobin A1c and, occasionally, measurement of fasting insulin levels.
Unfortunately, by the time these biomarkers start showing changes consistent with pre-diabetes or the onset of diabetes, the disease process has already begun.
The screening tests allow us to react to the development of the disease, but a genetic test might help prevent the disease onset entirely. The promise of polygenic risk scores and their implications for health is exciting because it shifts the focus from diagnosis to prevention.
But that doesn’t mean that I will be recommending the 23andMe diabetes score instead of the regular laboratory A1c test. While the polygenic risk score test is exciting and sexy, it is not yet ready for prime-time clinical care. That’s because many health care providers don’t know what to do with this type of technology.
Barriers to genetic risk scores
There are still challenges to integrating genetics into primary care. The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency charged with overseeing these tests, has established that clinical decisions cannot rely solely on a direct-to-consumer genetic testing result, like the diabetes report, and that the result must be clinically validated in a clinical lab that processes routine testing.
Currently, there is not a FDA-approved clinical polygenic risk score test for diabetes that is universally available to health care providers. In addition, there is no defined space to store such genetic data in the electronic health record. The U.S. health care system also lacks evidence-based algorithms to guide providers how to use the data in clinical care.
So, what you do with your polygenic risk score? I recommend that when this test result does arrive, you share it with your PCP. Even though your doctor cannot use the test nor order its clinical counterpart at this time, you can both engage in ongoing discussions about how to improve your health with regular exercise and better food choices and continue with your scheduled preventative health care.
Remember, the next time your doctor says eat well and exercise, that might not be just good advice but actually a precision medicine prescription for your health.
Will more genetically engineered foods be approved under the FDA’s new leadership?
March 21, 2019
Will food laws change as more GM foods are created?
Author: Ana Santos Rutschman, Assistant Professor of Law, Saint Louis University
Disclosure statement: Ana Santos Rutschman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The world of food and drug regulation was rocked earlier this month by the news of a change in leadership at the Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb resigned and will step down in early April. His temporary replacement is Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute.
As the news filtered out, stocks went up and down, consumer advocacy groups looked back on Gottlieb’s legacy and commentators worried about the future of the agency.
Most of the attention surrounding Gottlieb’s departure has focused on the consequences of the resignation for the vaping and tobacco industries. But the impact of changes in FDA leadership extends well beyond that. FDA-regulated products make up 20 percent of consumer spending in the U.S. In the realm of food alone, FDA regulates 75 percent of our food supply.
As a professor who studies FDA and health law at Saint Louis University, I have been working with the Center for Health Law Studies to monitor changes in FDA regulations and policies. Most recently I’ve been tracking progress on the FDA’s regulation of genetically modified food and think I can explain what consumers can expect from the agency after Gottlieb departs.
How the FDA deals with GM plants and animals
Genetically modified plants entered the U.S. market in the 1990s. Since then, the official FDA position has been that food derived from genetically modified plants and animals is not different “from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” This includes considerations regarding safety and long-time effects associated with its consumption.
Many people regard genetically modified food as a means to feed more people at a lower cost. However, recent studies suggest that these promises remain unfulfilled since genetically engineered food first became available in the 1990s.
Even though scientists have been able to alter the genome of animals for decades, it was not until 2008 that the FDA issued guidance on genetically modified animals. Since then, the agency has become much more active in this area. In 2017, months before Gottlieb became commissioner, the FDA issued further guidance on the use of emerging technologies, like CRISPR, that allow scientists to alter animal genomes.
As with plants, the FDA considers genetically engineered animals safe for human consumption. The agency reviews these types of products as new animal drug applications.
In 2015, two years before Gottlieb began his tenure, the FDA favorably reviewed an application involving AquAdvantage salmon. Although AquAdvantage salmon was being produced in Canada in 2016, Congress directed FDA to restrict importation of AquAdvantage salmon into the United States. This genetically modified fish incorporates a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and links it to a genetic switch, or promoter. The promoter taken from an eel-like fish called ocean pout keeps the growth hormone gene in the “on” position, allowing it to grow significantly faster than comparable Atlantic salmon.
Gottlieb’s FDA and regulation of GE food
Also in 2016, Congress made the U.S. Department of Agriculture the leading player in the labeling of genetically engineered food. The USDA issued final regulations on this topic in late 2018.
As a response, on March 8, 2019, Gottlieb’s FDA reversed the regulation prohibiting the importation of AquAdvantage salmon. With this decision, FDA underscored the agency’s belief that the product is safe for humans.
In addition to endorsing the general safety of genetically engineered foods, Gottlieb’s official statement highlights the FDA’s goal of explicitly assuring consumers that genetically engineered foods available in the United States market “meet the FDA’s high safety standards.”
In many ways, the response of the agency can be seen as purely mechanical and deferential to USDA and Congress. But I think it also signals continuity of a permissive policy when it comes to genetically engineered food. By treating it the same way it treats traditional food, the FDA will intervene if genetically engineered food is contaminated or prepared under unsanitary conditions, as it normally does under its general mandate as an agency tasked with protecting the public health.
But we should not expect FDA to challenge the prevailing wisdom among regulatory agencies when it comes to genetically modified food.
The FDA’s behavior in this field is in line with the current scientific consensus in the United States and abroad. Numerous reputable institutions have upheld the safety of genetically engineered food. These include the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, there are some critics of this consensus who call for more research into the long-term effects of eating genetically modified food. According to recent data, consumers continue to distrust genetically engineered food as well.
GM food under Sharpless and beyond
I believe that in the near future, FDA will address this distrust while continuing to guide the industry as different types of genetically engineered food enter the market.
Right now, we know virtually nothing about the views of the incoming acting commissioner on genetically engineered food, or food regulation in general. I think the most likely scenario is that Sharpless’ FDA will not stray from its current path regarding genetically engineered food. In 2018, Gottlieb launched a Plant and Animal Biotechnology Innovation Action Plan, describing a public communication strategy to engage stakeholders. The plan includes public webinars on animal genome editing, as well as guidance on plant and animal biotechnology. Given the current scientific consensus, it would be surprising if Sharpless chose to move the agency in a different direction.
On the labeling front, now that FDA has relinquished most of its authority in this matter to the USDA, the debate is likely to shift elsewhere. Already under Gottlieb, much energy was spent on labeling issues involving almond milk and vegan cheese. The agency worried that using dairy names to described plant-based products might be confusing to consumers.
It is of course possible that Sharpless will not be at the helm of FDA for very long. After all, he is an interim figure of Democratic leanings. However, given FDA’s improbable recent history, there is reason to expect some institutional continuity in the foreseeable future.
Consumers should therefore count on increasing numbers of genetically modified plants and animals entering our food supply. Absent a change in scientific consensus, FDA will smooth the pathway for companies to bring these products to market.
Editing genes shouldn’t be too scary – unless they are the ones that get passed to future generations
March 15, 2019
Author: Eleanor Feingold, Professor of Human Genetics, University of Pittsburgh
Disclosure statement: Eleanor Feingold does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Gene editing is one of the scarier things in the science news, but not all gene editing is the same. It matters whether researchers edit “somatic” cells or “germline” cells.
Germline cells are the ones that propogate into an entire organism – either cells that make sperm and eggs (known as germ cells), or the cells in an early embryo that will later differentiate into different functions. What’s critical about those particular cells is that a change or mutation in one will go on to affect every cell in the body of a baby that grows from them. That’s why scientists are calling for a moratorium on editing the genes of germ cells or germline cells.
Somatic cells are everything else – cells in particular organs or tissues that perform a specific function. Skin cells, liver cells, eye cells and heart cells are all somatic. Changes in somatic cells are much less significant than changes in germline cells. If you get a mutation in a liver cell, you may end up with more mutant liver cells as the mutated cell divides and grows, but it will never affect your kidney or your brain.
Our bodies accumulate mutations in somatic tissues throughout our lives. Most of the time humans never know it or suffer any harm. The exception is when one of those somatic mutations grows out of control leading to cancer.
I am a geneticist who studies the genetic and environmental causes of a number of different disorders, from birth defects – cleft lip and palate – to diseases of old age like Alzheimer’s. Studying the genome always entails thinking about how the knowledge you generate will be used, and whether those likely uses are ethical. So geneticists have been following the gene editing news with great interest and concern.
In gene editing, it matters enormously whether you are messing with a germline cell, and thus an entire future human being and all its future descendants, or just one particular organ. Gene therapy – fixing faulty genes in individual organs – has been one of the great hopes of medical science for decades. There have been a few successes, but more failures. Gene editing may make gene therapy more effective, potentially curing important diseases in adults. The National Institutes of Health runs a well-respected and highly ethical research program to develop tools for safe and effective gene editing to cure disease.
But editing germline cells and creating babies whose genes have been manipulated is a very different story, with multiple ethical issues. The first set of concerns is medical – at this point society doesn’t know anything about the safety. “Fixing” the cells in the liver of someone who might otherwise die of liver disease is one thing, but “fixing” all of the cells in a baby who is otherwise healthy is a much higher-risk proposition. This is why the recent announcement that a Chinese scientist had done just that created such an uproar.
But even if we knew the procedure was safe, gene editing of the germline would still catapult us straight into all of the “designer baby” controversies and the problems of creating a world where people try to micromanage their offspring’s genes. It does not take much imagination to fear that gene editing will could bring us a new era of eugenics and discrimination.
Does gene editing still sound scary? It should. But it makes a big difference whether you are manipulating individual organs or whole human beings.