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Medical Imagers Lower the Dose

Radiation-lowering techniques were in the works even before studies showed a danger

3 min read

Recent research documenting that CT scans increase the risk of cancer has biomedical engineers looking for new ways to reduce patients' exposure to ionizing radiation.

CT scans, which use multiple X-ray images to build up cross-sectional and 3-D pictures of structures inside the human body, have soared in popularity in recent decades. A study published in December's Archives of Internal Medicine found that the number of CT scans grew from 3 million in 1980 to roughly 70 million in 2007. Those 70 million scans could eventually lead to 29 000 cancers, according to the same study. For each year's use of today's scanning technology, the resulting cancers could cause about 14 500 deaths.

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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