The Year 2016 In Review, by Claus D. Volko

Direct Link to this page:

For the first time I am writing a review exclusively for this website. This review is supposed to help gain an overview of the really important breakthroughs of the past year and shed the more important news items from the less important ones.

Biomedical Informatics: In April 2016 Jason H. Moore and John H. Holmes published a paper explaining why they think that "the golden era of biomedical informatics has begun". They argue that this is, among other reasons, due to the inexpense of high-performance computing technology and the maturation of artificial intelligence and machine learning. An example of an application of machine learning in biomedical sciences is what Microsoft tries in order to "solve" the problem of cancer.

Cancer: Apart from Microsoft's approach which I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there has been breaking news about researchers from the Mayo Clinic, who "found a way to reprogram cancer cells". "They found that cancer cells that have insufficient microRNA levels or are missing the protein PLEKHA7 can have those levels restored — and in turn, be turned back into a normal cell. Researchers in the lab discovered that they can turn normal cells cancerous by removing the microRNAs. So then they tried reversing the process by adding microRNAs directly into to cancerous cells that were missing it. The result? The cells stopped dividing." An innovative approach to cancer treatment, following the new paradigm "Modify and Repair", about which I also published an article together with Uwe Rohr and Pedro-Antonio Regidor back in 2015. In July 2016, another article related to cancer arrived, reporting about E. coli bacteria programmed to destroy tumor cells.

Mental Health: In October 2016 the news arrived that researchers from Johns Hopkins university have found common sets of genes disrupted in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. "The team reports that out of a total of 1,070 gene sets, 13 of these groups changed in common ways among all three mental disorders." This confirms the hypothesis of my own research group that there is a common denominator for all severe mental disorders. We published a paper about this in March 2016, which focuses on endocrinological aberrations: "Model approach for stress induced steroidal hormone cascade changes in severe mental diseases". Some of our hypotheses concerning the effect of stress on the body have also been confirmed by a study that revealed "a biological link between stress and obesity", from September 2016. In April 2016 we published the article "The evolution of genomic stability to a mechanism in reproduction and psychiatry", in which we further explained our hypothesis and how it is related to the immune system. Finally, May 2016 brought an interesting article suggesting that "schizophrenic brains have the ability to regenerate".

Genetic Engineering: There have been many articles about gene editing and the CRISPR method, as well as other methods, including the articles "New era of human embryo gene editing begins", "CRISPR Makes It to the Clinic", "Beyond CRISPR: A guide to the many other ways to edit a genome", "Crispr: Chinese scientists to pioneer gene-editing trial on humans", "After a Secret Meeting, Scientists Announce They Are Making Synthetic Human Genomes", and "Second Chinese team reports gene editing in human embryos". This is definitely a piece of technology that has an enormous potential for new treatments of hitherto incurable diseases.

Infectious diseases: A 25-year-old PhD student has developed "a star-shaped polymer that can kill six different superbug strains without antibiotics, simply by ripping apart their cell walls". This could be used to treat patients infected by multiresistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which have become increasingly problematic in the past years. Even more dramatical news: IBM announced that it designed a "molecule that could fight off any human virus".

Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine: 3D printers have been used to print convoluted renal proximal tubulus on perfusable chips. In general, 3D printing appears to be a highly promising technology for tissue engineering and organ repair, with the potential to revolutionize medicine. Also, there has been an article on a new algorithm that reduces the time to create induced pluripotent stem cells.

Neuroscience: Journalists reported in December 2016 that researchers at HRL Laboratories, California, managed to "upload" knowledge to the human brain by means of brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps. If this really works, this could be the beginning of a game-changer.

Computers: The news that Kaspersky has developed its own operating system came in November 2016. Possibly this will inspire competitors to focus more on security in their systems, which is gaining more and more importance in an age of increasing cyber criminality. What's even more revolutionary is that scientists are working on completely new types of computers, such as computers inspired by biological systems.

Data Storage: Recently DNA has become subject of investigation as a possible data storage medium, as also explained by this article.

Machine Learning: Last but not least, there have been reports about machine learning techniques having been used to generate new computer programs. That's yet another exciting application of this artificial intelligence paradigm.

Imprint: This website is owned by Claus Volko, Hungereckstr. 60/2, 1230 Vienna, Austria. No liability is taken for the contents of any of the linked websites.