When an old year ends and a new one begins, we face the past and the future at once, basking in our successes, cringing at our failures, and resolving, always, to do better. So now, as we pass from 2018 to 2019, let us review last year’s most notable GEN news articles—notable in terms of attracting the most reader interest as measured by page views.

Most of these articles express the hope that discoveries in molecular biology will help resolve one ailment or another, from Alzheimer’s to cancer to AIDS. One article supplies a cautionary tale, citing the demise of a self-experimenting biohacker. Also, there are stories that present diverting novelties: GMO houseplants that purify the air; gene variants associated with human empathy; and the surprising benefits of consuming easily available substances, such as coffee and baking soda, or taking preparations derived from a controlled substance—namely, cannabis. Finally, there is—of course—a CRISPR story, one that emphasizes progress in making the gene editing technology more reliable.

Why were these articles so popular? One possibility is that they link immediate discoveries with long-term goals. That is, they give us the opportunity to take in, all at once, past struggles, present triumphs, and future challenges—just like the New Year’s holiday itself. Going forward, GEN will continue to present such stories, which serve to give our readers perspective, a sense that we may gain a measure of control over our destinies, and a feeling that the disparate stories that compete for our attention ultimately have a larger meaning.

Dead at Age 28, Ascendance Biomedical CEO Remembered for Pushing Boundaries
Aaron Traywick, the CEO of Ascendance Biomedical, injected himself with his own developmental herpes simplex virus (HSV) treatment in front of a live audience. April 29, he was found dead at a Washington D.C. spa.

Cannabis Combo Therapy Triples Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rate
A research team from Queen Mary University found that adding an already clinically approved component of medicinal cannabis to standard chemotherapy can improve survival times threefold in mice with pancreatic cancer.

Triple-Acting Diabetes Drug Reverses Memory Loss in Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Models
Studies have shown how a drug that was originally developed to treat diabetes demonstrates what researchers call “clear promise” as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders in humans.

GMO Houseplant Purifies Air of Hazardous Compounds
Researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant—pothos ivy or devil’s ivy—to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it.

Autoimmune Treatment May Be Tucked Away in the Back of Your Fridge
Investigators at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) show how a cheap, OTC antacid solution of baking soda can encourage the spleen to promote an anti-inflammatory environment that could be therapeutic in the face of inflammatory disease.

Human Empathy Linked with Genetic Variation
Results from a genome-wide association study (GWAS) involving more than 45,000 volunteers suggest that the degree of empathy we feel toward our fellow man is at least partly due to our genes.

Coffee Consumption Affects Cannabinoid Metabolism
One of the world’s daily pleasures could have some interesting metabolic impacts. Scientists have discovered coffee affects your metabolism in dozens of other ways, including your metabolism of steroids and the neurotransmitters typically linked to cannabis.

CRISPR Eradicates Latent HIV-1, Offering Hope of “Functional Cures”
Scientists have used CRISPR-Cas9 technology to stop human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) replication in latently infected T cells that can’t be controlled using existing drug treatments.

Common Anticholinergics Linked with Dementia Even When Taken 20 Years before Diagnosis
The collaboration between teams in the U.K., U.S., and Ireland claim, the study findings are significant enough to warrant reduced prescribing anticholinergics, where possible.

CRISPR-Cas9 Improved 10,000-Fold by Synthetic Nucleotides
Scientists at the University of Alberta discovered a way to greatly improve the accuracy of gene-editing technology by replacing the natural guide molecule it uses with a synthetic one called a bridged nucleic acid (BNA).

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