The Daily Dose: NASA warns SpaceX; parenthood’s effects on women in STEM

Needs improvement: NASA has warned SpaceX and Boeing that the agency harbors significant safety concerns about their astronaut launch systems. According to Reuters, “For Boeing, they include the capsule’s structural vulnerability when the heat shield is deployed. For SpaceX, the report mentioned the redesign of a SpaceX rocket canister following a 2016 explosion and its ‘load and go’ process of fueling the rocket with the crew already inside the capsule.” Parachute performance is also a major concern. SpaceX is being paid $2.6 billion and Boeing is being paid $4.2 billion to develop rocket and capsule systems to carry humans into space. NASA’s space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.

Women in STEM: A study by sociologists at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has highlighted the effects of parenthood on female scientists. The news is not good. According to Erin Cech, 40% of new mothers left or transitioned to part-time research. This compared to only 23% for their male counterparts. This exacerbates the under-representation of women in STEM.

Catching big fish: The biotechnology start-up, Morphic, has reeled in another big pharmaceutical company in support of its small molecule integrin platform. Fierce Biotechnology reports that Johnson & Johnson has agreed to a $725 million deal. Together with a $100 million deal inked with Abbvie in October, the current agreement ensures the company is well funded for trials. It also opens up access to J&J’s expertise. According to Morphic CEO, Praveen Tipirneni, M.D., the deal represents a “multifaceted collaboration where we interrogate multiple integrin classes [with] integrin inhibitors and activators.”

Hope for low resource diagnostics: CRISPR is poised to revolutionize the field of disease diagnostics. Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge have replaced the Cas9 protein normally associated with CRISPR technology with Cas13. A Lassa Fever test based on this technology, called SHERLOCK, is being tested in Nigeria. If successful, the new technology promises to be quicker and cheaper than current PCR-based methods.

More scientists behaving badly: The Scientist reports that a recent paper published in the journal, Nature, has been retracted by its authors. The paper by scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas described a CAR-T technology that was able to cross the blood brain barrier and target cancerous cells in the brain. At first, the study was met with enthusiasm in associated Nature publications.

Put the plasma down: If you’re still looking for the elusive fountain of youth, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning the public that infusions of plasma from young donors fails to live up to the current hype surrounding it. According to an official FDA statement, “Simply put, we’re concerned that some patients are being preyed upon by unscrupulous actors touting treatments of plasma from young donors as cures and remedies.” In other words, just say no.

Billionaire Bill and his magic microbiome: Finally in some billionaire news, Business Insider reports that Bill Gates is moving forward with his microbiota fascination. In a talk given at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, the Microsoft founder stated that he expects a breakthrough in the field soon. Gates is putting his money where his mouth is. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested millions of dollars in developing new strategies to create consumable gut-microbe therapies that could change the way our stomachs process food.


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