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As editor in chief of a science magazine for six years, I’m not sure how I missed the gene therapy revolution. Yes, we did the odd news report on gene therapy, but mostly we were blinded by the deluge of CRISPR publications – a cheap, precise new technique of gene editing that was transforming the ability to genetically modify plants, insects, animals and maybe one day humans. As it turns out this happened in China last November .But it wasn’t just me who missed the gene therapy revolution. It seems most people I speak to about it – including many medical people – hadn’t noticed. The most dramatic example has biblical dimensions. In 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a gene therapy trial for children born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). These kids normally develop paralysis and die by the age of two. Instead most were sitting and rolling; some were walking and talking. Is this just a fringe thing? Big Pharma doesn’t think so. Novartis recently paid $US 8.7 billion to purchase – AveXis, the start-up company behind the SMA trial. In this talk, allow me to guide you through the gene therapy revolution and how it is set to disrupt the way medicine is delivered.
Consciousness remains one of the biggest mysteries of the human brain. Our perception of what exists as well as our thoughts, feelings, imaginings and dreams has attempted to be understood by philosophers through conceptual analysis and thought experiments. Neuroscientists have sought to describe it as a biological process of neuronal activity captured by measurable tests of brain activity. Increasingly, philosophers and neuroscientists are joining forces, but consensus is elusive. Do we experience consciousness only while we are awake? Do other animals experience consciousness? Does it fade after brain damage? Are intelligent computers conscious? Is consciousness a process? What is it for? We have invited a neuroscientist and philosopher to share their research and perspectives on consciousness and to provide some guidance on these questions.
Bioelectronics is the concept of interfacing directly with the body's own nervous system to monitor physiological signals and, as needed, modulate the electrical activity within the nervous system to alleviate symptoms of diseases. The first generation of bioelectronic systems are now treating a number of disorders, with perhaps the most familiar being cardiac pacemakers that aim to maintain a healthy heart rhythm. Pacing systems are deployed in hundreds of thousands of patients today, and reinforce the potential for bioelectronic medicine to restore health.
Expanding bioelectronics to neurological disorders like epilepsy, chronic pain and dementia is an exciting but challenging opportunity. Despite the clinical success in treating symptoms of diseases like Parkinson's, existing bioelectronic systems have several attributes that currently limit their adoption. For example, currently a skilled neurosurgeon is required to place the implant, and the device's output is relatively inflexible in contrast to the rapidly changing and reactive activity of the nervous system. Resolving these issues requires the complementary pursuit of technological innovation and scientific discovery.