These 5 biomedical breakthroughs gave 2022 a sci-fi feel

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Big steps include pig-to-human organ transplants and synthetic embryos

COVID-19 may continue to dominate the headlines, but this year’s biomedical breakthroughs weren’t just about the Rona. The year 2022 saw fruitful and seemingly fantastic research that could one day be good news for patients.

Cultivation of synthetic embryos

Two reports this year showed how simulate the early life stages of mammals . Using laboratory wizardry, scientists have mixed mouse stem cells that have self-assembled to give rise to what looks like young embryo — without egg or sperm. As they grow, these synthetic embryos derived from stem cells can form protohearts, brains and intestines. But the resemblance to natural mouse embryos quickly disappears. The synthetic and natural versions only match for about eight days of development. However, studying such clusters of human stem cells may one day offer a way to study the development of human embryos without relying on real-world data.

Organ transplantation of the next level

Organ transplantation has become a reflection of science fiction. In January a sick 57-year-old man received a heart from a genetically modified pig and lived for two months with a transplanted organ. Other operations inserted pig hearts into the bodies of brain-dead patients , which prepares researchers for future clinical trials. And a high-tech system connected to the pigs’ bodies an hour after death helped keep the organs functioning. Technology that could one day preserve human organs scheduled for surgery pumps a mixture of real and artificial blood through animals.

In July, a surgical team from NYU Langone Health transplanted a pig heart into a brain-dead patient, part of a larger effort to evaluate the potential of using animal organs for transplantation.

Epstein-Barr’s reference to the MS

Earlier this year, scientists dropped the Epstein-Barr bombshell when they suggested that the virus is the main cause of the neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis . Exposure to the virus significantly increased the likelihood of later developing MS, an analysis of millions of US military recruits found. The link between the virus and multiple sclerosis, which scientists suspected but never so clearly delineated, may point the way to potential methods of treatment of multiple sclerosis — or even, someday, vaccines to prevent disease

Epstein-Barr viruses (red) emerge from B cells of the immune system in this color electron micrograph.

Finally, the complete human genome

Researchers announced back in 2003 that they had read all the genetic information packed into strands of human DNA—the first sequence of the human genome. But this genome was not quite complete; some tangled fragments of DNA remained difficult to decipher. This year, the team made ends meet. In March, researchers reported about a new and improved human genome — this time, full from end to end

New technologies have helped researchers decode the last, complex stretches of DNA bases in the human genome.

AI predicts protein structures

Artificial intelligence has accelerated structural biology. A deep learning program called AlphaFold now predicted the three-dimensional shapes of more than 200 million proteins. Although the molds are not laboratory-proven structures, the vast dataset can help researchers studying health and disease in all kinds of organisms, from humans to honey bees. Now finding a predicted protein structure is almost as easy as typing it into Google, according to the co-founder of the AI ​​company that created AlphaFold.

Alphafold predicted this structure (blue highest confidence, red lowest confidence) for a honey bee protein called vitellogenin, which helps protect against bacterial infections.

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