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Research Roundup: CRISPR-based cancer therapy, tanning studies, immigration and deportation

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Each week, The Daily’s Science & Tech section produces a roundup of the most exciting and influential research happening on campus or otherwise related to Stanford. Here’s our digest for the week of Feb. 2 – Feb. 8.

CRISPR-based cancer therapy shows promise


A new FDA-approved cancer therapy uses the gene-editing technology Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) to enhance T-cells, a type of immune cell, in order to better fight cancer, a study published on Feb. 6 in “Science” found.

“Let’s say normally, there’s a T-cell that’s involved in an allergic reaction to pollen,” genetics and dermatology professor Howard Chang told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE. “We can use CRISPR to alter the cell so that it doesn’t react to pollen anymore, and instead, only fights cancer.”

The researchers’ goal was to introduce three gene edits to T-cells, then reintroduce edited T-cells back into the patient. The gene edits would rid T-cells of their natural receptors and increase their immune activity to actively fight cancer. After three months, researchers took edited T-cell samples from patients to analyze their molecular characteristics.

“If you think of all of these edited T-cells like they’re in a horse race, analyzing these cells is like being able to see which horse wins the race, but also that horse’s speed, gait and all of the critical details that make that horse the best,” Chang told Stanford Medicine’s blog SCOPE.

The findings suggest the therapy is safe, and further studies will need to be performed in future human clinical trials.

Industry-backed studies show bias favoring indoor tanning

Studies on indoor tanning that are financially backed by the tanning industry are more likely to promote benefits and dismiss risks compared to studies without financial support, an investigation published on Feb. 4 in the “British Medical Journal” found.

“The association is quite striking,” dermatology professor Eleni Linos told Stanford Medicine News. “We need scientific data to be independent of industry influence. I am concerned that funding sources may influence the conclusions of these papers.”

The researchers analyzed 691 journal articles referencing indoor tanning and found that 50 had industry backing. 78% of articles with industry backing portrayed indoor tanning in a positive light, compared to 4% of articles without industry backing.

“This is the first study to examine conflict of interest in indoor tanning literature, and it echoes what’s been said about the influence of the tobacco and sugar industries on science,” Linos told Stanford Medicine News. “Researchers, public health experts and members of the general public should be aware of and account for industry funding when assessing the evidence related to the risks and benefits of indoor tanning.”

Immigrants who obtain legal status might still fear deportation

Immigrants might continue to fear deportation even after receiving documentation, a study published on Jan. 29 in “Law & Society Review” found.

“Documentation is hardly a shield from deportation fears,” sociology assistant professor Asad Asad told Stanford News. “Documentation affords some protection from deportation, but it can also heighten fears since the bureaucracies that ‘document’ immigrants have a greater perceived ability to surveil and expel them.”

Between 2013 to 2015, he conducted extensive interviews with 50 undocumented and documented immigrants living in the Dallas metropolitan area to learn about their everyday lives.

“Some undocumented migrants may be chilled out of legalization opportunities in an attempt to maintain a sense of invisibility to a system they view as primarily punitive,” Asad told Stanford News. “If fears of deportation lead immigrants to pass up rare opportunities for legal status in their search for invisibility from a system they view as unforgiving, they and their U.S.-citizen children may face restricted opportunities for promoting their long-term well-being in this country.”

Contact Derek Chen at derekc8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.