Tag Archives: global pandemic

The First CRISPR Patients Are Living Better: Why That Matters After 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about CRISPR, biotechnology, and the prospect of ordinary people enhancing their biology in ways straight out of a comic book. In my defense, this past year has created plenty of distractions. Some have been so bad that my usual optimism of the future has been seriously damaged.

While my spirit is wounded, I still have hope that science and technology will continue to progress. If anything, it’ll progress with more urgency after this year. A great many fields are bound to get more attention and investment after the damage done by a global pandemic.

We can’t agree on much, but we can at least agree on this. Pandemics are bad for business, bad for people, bad for politics, and just objectively awful for everyone all around, no matter what their station is in life.

There’s a lot of incentive to ensure something like this never happens again is what I’m saying. While we’re still a long way from ending pandemics entirely, we already have tools that can help in that effort. One is CRISPR, a promising tool I’ve talked about in the past. While it wasn’t in a position to help us during this pandemic, research into refining it hasn’t stopped.

Despite all the awful health news of this past year, some new research has brought us some promising results on the CRISPR front. In terms of actually treading real people who have real conditions, those results are in and they give us reason to hope.

One such effort involved using CRISPR to help treat people with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic condition that hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It affects over 4 million people worldwide and often leads to significant complications that can be fatal.

Since CRISPR is all about tweaking genetics, it’s a perfect mechanism with which to develop new therapies. Multiple patients have undergone experimental treatments that utilize this technology. In a report form NPR, the results are exceeding expectations for all the right reasons.

NPR: First Patients To Get CRISPR Gene-Editing Treatment Continue To Thrive

At a recent meeting of the American Society for Hematology, researchers reported the latest results from the first 10 patients treated via the technique in a research study, including Gray, two other sickle cell patients and seven patients with a related blood disorder, beta thalassemia. The patients now have been followed for between three and 18 months.

All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.

The New England Journal of Medicine published online this month the first peer-reviewed research paper from the study, focusing on Gray and the first beta thalassemia patient who was treated.

“I’m very excited to see these results,” says Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize this year for her role in the development of CRISPR. “Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”

Make no mistake. This is objectively good news and not just for people suffering from sickle cell disease.

Whenever new medical advances emerge, there’s often a wide gap between developing new treatments and actually implementing them in a way that makes them as commonplace as getting a prescription. The human body is complex. Every individual’s health is different. Taking a treatment from the lab to a patient is among the biggest challenge in medical research.

This news makes it official. CRISPR has made that leap. The possible treatments aren’t just possibilities anymore. There are real people walking this planet who have received this treatment and are benefiting because of it. Victoria Gray, as referenced in the article, is just one of them.

That’s another critical threshold in the development of new technology. When it goes beyond just managing a condition to helping people thrive, then it becomes more than just a breakthrough. It becomes an opportunity.

It sends a message to doctors, researchers, and biotech companies that this technology works. Some of those amazing possibilities that people like to envision aren’t just dreams anymore. They’re manifesting before our eyes. This is just one part of it. If it works for people with Sickle Cell Disease, what other conditions could it treat?

I doubt I’m the first to ask that question. As I write this, there are people far smarter and more qualified than me using CRISPR to develop a whole host of new treatments. After a year like 2020, everyone is more aware of their health. They’re also more aware of why science and medicine matter. It can do more than just save our lives. It can help us thrive.

We learned many hard lessons in 2020, especially when it comes to our health. Let’s not forget those lessons as we look to the future. This technology is just one of many that could help us prosper in ways not possible in previous years. We cheered those who developed the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s start cheering those working on new treatments with CRISPR.

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Filed under biotechnology, CRISPR, futurism, health, technology

Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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A Post-Pandemic Valentine’s Day Prediction (That I Hope Is Wrong)

I’m sick of this pandemic. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but there’s no better way to say it.

I hate this goddamn virus. It has done so much damage to this world, killing so many people and causing so much suffering. I want it gone as much as everyone else.

Thankfully, the end is in sight. We now have two effective vaccines with which to end this pandemic. A third one is likely be approved very soon. This, along with other treatments, will help get this monster virus under control. It may not happen as fast as we hope, but it will happen.

I eagerly await the day when I can go to a movie theater, hang out at a bar, and not panic every time I forget my mask when I leave my house. Like many others, I find myself watching the trendline of the virus every day. I watched with the same dread as everyone when it went up towards the end of 2020. That was genuinely distressing.

Now, it’s trending downward. As more and more people get the vaccine, that trend is likely to continue and accelerate. Again, it won’t happen as fast as we want, but the data is encouraging. I sincerely hope that the worst of this pandemic is behind us.

That being said, I do have a prediction/suspicion about that trend. I’m not the best when it comes to predicting the future and I freely admit that every time I try. However, if ever there was an instance where my prediction turned out dead wrong, it’s this one.

That’s because I predict we’re going to have one last surge of COVID-19 cases before we can say the pandemic is over.

It probably won’t be nearly as big as the one we saw in late 2020. The vaccines will make certain of that. I still think we’ll see one last spike. Moreover, I think that spike will come as a direct result of Valentine’s Day.

I know those who are single, lonely, and/or not a romance fan like I am already despise this holiday. I personally have mixed feelings about it, being both single and a romance fan. At the same time, I don’t deny that some people take it seriously. Others just use it as an excuse to get frisky. It can be a beautiful thing most of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with getting extra romantic on Valentine’s Day when there’s not a pandemic going on. Unfortunately, this is not one of the times. It’s for that reason I believe the weeks following Valentine’s Day will see a surge that will frustrating everyone hoping the current trend continued downward.

Let’s face it. Being romantic on Valentine’s Day doesn’t exactly accommodate social distancing. Unless your fetish involves washing hands, it’ll probably create a few extra opportunities for the virus to spread. The same thing happened with the holidays in 2020. All the gatherings and get-togethers basically gave the virus a free ride to infect.

Valentine’s Day may not inspire as much traveling and gathering as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s still an excuse for getting cozy and frisky with that special someone. Let’s face it. When you’re in love and/or horny, you’re not going to think straight. You may forget to wash your hands and cover your face for a while. Many will get away with it, but a few won’t.

Again, I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this. In the coming weeks, as more and more vaccinations occur, the end of this pandemic will draw closer. We’ll continue seeing those numbers drop. It’ll happen gradually, but it will happen. I don’t know when we’ll be able to officially declare this pandemic over, but that day will come sooner rather than later. I just worry that the various activities associated with Valentine’s Day may push that day back.

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Small Silver Linings: The Pandemic Is Killing The Flu

Things are pretty awful right now. Let’s not underscore that.

A global pandemic is still raging and world is in turmoil because of it. Even with multiple vaccines available, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can honestly say it’s over.

As bad as that is, it’s still important to find some silver linings. You don’t want to undermine how bad things are, but you also want to embrace whatever positives you can. Even if they don’t warrant the suffering, they can help us process the overall impact.

To that end, I want to highlight something that’s easy to overlook in the midst of a raging pandemic. This disease we’re fighting is awful. It’s killing way too many people and our efforts to stop it have been mixed, at best. However, those efforts have brought other indirect benefits.

One of them has to do with the seasonal flu. Every year, it seems, some nasty bug seems to go around in certain areas. I’ve certainly experienced it. I’ve endured the flu before and most people agree. It’s not fun. It’s an experience we can all do without.

Now, due to the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the flu has been effectively kneecapped this season. According to some recent data from the Center for Disease Control, this has been the mildest flu season in years.

CDC: Decreased Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Following widespread adoption of community mitigation measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that tested positive decreased from >20% to 2.3% and has remained at historically low interseasonal levels (0.2% versus 1–2%). Data from Southern Hemisphere countries also indicate little influenza activity.

Again, and it’s worth belaboring, this silver lining does not make up for all the terrible things the COVID-19 pandemic has incurred. An overall decline in flu cases hardly makes up for all the suffering we’ve endured in this pandemic.

At the very least, it shows that there’s real merit in embracing these public safety measures. There’s real benefit to regularly washing your hands, wearing a mask, and not congregating in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

It has certainly changed how I look at public health. In the past, I’ve actually been sick and gone to class or work. I tried to endure the illness, not understanding just how much it affected others around me. This pandemic has changed that.

Now, when I’m sick, I’m making damn sure I stay home. I’m also washing my hands a lot more regularly and thoroughly. I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. These are all hard lessons that we’ve all paid a terrible price to learn. At the same time, we have that much more reason to endure and overcome this awful pandemic. Beyond simply beating this dreaded disease, emerging in a world where the flu is lesson common is definitely a more appealing world overall.

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Happy New Year 2021!

Happy New Year, everyone!

We did it. We made it through 2020. A new year is now upon us.

Usually, New Year is just a formality. However, this time is different. I’ve already highlighted why. I don’t want to belabor it again. Most of us with news feeds already know why 2020 sucked so much.

Instead of harping on how rough the previous year was, I just want to look ahead to 2021. It’s definitely going to be a year of rebuilding. We have a long road ahead of us, but we definitely have the tools to make 2021 much better than 2020. The bar for improvement is very low, but let’s not settle for less.

Today, let’s all just take a step back, take a deep breath, and take some satisfaction in that we made it this far. Quite a few poor souls weren’t as lucky. Let’s acknowledge and honor those who didn’t make it by making 2021 the best year it can possibly be.

Again, the bar is very low. Let’s still put in the extra work. If every there was a year to overcompensate, it’s this one.

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New Years Eve: Just One More Day Of 2020!

It’s almost over, everbody.

The final day of 2020 is upon us.

In any other year, we would use this as an opportunity to wish everyone a happy New Year and to share our New Years plans. This is not just any other year. This is 2020 and it has been historically hellish for reasons that would take too long to list. Now, it’s almost over.

We’ve made it this far. We’ve endured horrible story after horrible story. We navigated times in which time seemed to slow to a crawl. For some, it’s been a special kind of terrible. Let’s at least acknowledge that doctors and front line health care workers have had it the worst.

Now, I know the end of 2020 doesn’t mean an automatic end to everything that made it so awful. There’s still work to be done. We’re still a long way from anything resembling a better world.

If nothing else, 2020 has set the bar so laughably low for improvement that 2021 has no excuses for being at least slightly better. As jaded and broken as I’ve become over this past year, I’m choosing to be hopeful. I really want to believe that 2021 will be a better year. The effort to make it better starts tomorrow.

For now, let’s just get through this last day. We’ve almost made it, people! Just hang in there a little bit longer.

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The First People Have Received The COVID-19 Vaccine (And We Should Celebrate)

It’s almost over. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that with each passing day.

This historically horrible year is almost over. We’re in the home stretch with the holidays approaching. A new year is almost upon us and the bar for improvement for 2021 is laughably low compared to previous years.

We can also say with a straight face that the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over. I say that knowing full-well that cases are still rising and people are still dying at a horrific pace. That’s still objectively terrible.

The reason there’s hope now is we actually have a working vaccine. Thanks to the heroic efforts of scientists, doctors, and those who volunteered to test this unproven treatment, the key to ending this pandemic is upon us.

It also is just the first. There are multiple vaccines in late stages of development. It’s very likely that we’ll have a second effective before New Years. That’s a powerful one-two punch to this pandemic that has killed so many and disrupted so many lives.

These aren’t folk remedies or something some shady health guru is trying to pawn for a quick buck. Contrary to what anti-vaxxers may claim, these vaccines will actually protect people. As of this writing, it’s being distributed to front line care workers and vulnerable populations.

Just this past week, the first individuals received the vaccine. It started with a British woman in Coventry. It continued with an ICU nurse in New York City. CNN even captured it in a live video feed.

CNN: ICU nurse in New York among the first people in the US to get authorized coronavirus vaccine

A critical care nurse was the first person in New York and among the first people in the United States to get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York City, was administered the vaccine during a live video event at about 9:20 a.m. ET on Monday.

Dr. Michelle Chester, the corporate director of employee health services at Northwell Health, delivered the shot.

“She has a good touch, and it didn’t feel any different than taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said immediately afterward.

This isn’t just a turning point in the fight against a deadly disease. This is something we should celebrate. Moreover, I believe this is the kind of celebrating we should learn from.

I admit I’ve celebrated some less-than-important things in my life. Hell, I celebrated the day when comics started coming out digitally the same day they came out in shops. I treated that like I won the Super Bowl.

People celebrate all sorts of events that they believe to be the most important thing in the world. Whether it’s their team winning a championship or a movie grossing $2 billion at the box office, we all have a different bar for what warrants celebrating.

For just once, let’s all re-think where we raise that bar. Let’s also let this be a prime example of something that’s truly worth celebrating and praising.

Make no mistake. Creating this vaccine this quickly is a remarkable achievement. We’ve endured pandemics in the past. Some of those pandemics have killed far more people. This disease could’ve definitely killed more. If we didn’t have this vaccine, or even if we had to wait a year to get it, thousands more would’ve died.

Now, going into 2021, countless lives will be saved because of this. It’s a testament to the power of science, hard work, and human ingenuity. It’s as heroic as we can be without the aid of superpowers or magic wands. As someone who loves superhero media, I say that’s a beautiful thing indeed. So, let’s all take a moment to appreciate and celebrate this achievement. I also fully intend to get this vaccine, once it’s available. When that day comes, I’ll gladly share that moment and encourage others to do the same.

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Thoughts On A (Bittersweet) Black Friday 2020

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

If you did it right, you’re still digesting dinner and desert. I sure am.

However, as fun as it is to enjoy food, family, and football on Thanksgiving, Black Friday has become an extension of sorts for the holiday. For some people, it invites even bolder traditions than Thanksgiving. I’ve known people who will immediately camp outside of major stories almost immediately after Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m not one of them. I prefer enjoying Black Friday shopping on Black Friday. I always have. It’s not that I’m a sucker for sales and excessive consumerism. I just genuinely enjoy the Black Friday shopping experience, from the crowds to the holiday decorations to the various festivities.

I know that makes me weird in the eyes of some. I understand that. Black Friday is one of those events that you either love or hate. You love it because it’s the best shopping time of the season. You hate it because it’s the pinnacle of rampant consumerism. I can appreciate both positions. I still enjoy it.

That’s why this year is so difficult. This is the first year where I won’t partake in any Black Friday shopping sprees of any kind. Thanks to a global pandemic and a massive spike in cases over the past few weeks, pretty much any hope of salvaging this event, even in part, is gone.

For some, it’s no great loss. Not being able to go on a shopping spree in crowded stores probably doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. It means a lot to me.

It’s not just for the shopping part. Like many others, I do most of my Christmas shopping online. I finish nearly 90 percent of my holiday shopping before Black Friday. To me, just getting the gifts I want for my family isn’t the point anymore.

It’s the experience I’ve come to appreciate. That experience is what matters to me. It’s an experience that comes partially from my mother’s fondness of shopping.

She has told me on multiple occasions that her favorite activity with me, when I was a baby, was going shopping at the malls. I feel like I inherited that fondness for the experience from her. It’s one I even shared with my ex-girlfriend years ago. Some of our most memorable moments came while shopping on Black Friday.

Now, it’s just not possible to have any of those moments in a year like this.

It’s not surprising, given the current state of affairs, but it’s still disappointing. It’s yet another indicator that 2020 is a year in which we’ve lost so much. Between major movie releases, major sporting events, and beloved celebrities, the losses just keep accumulating. This is just the latest.

I don’t doubt it’ll come back at some point. Depending on how rapidly we recover from this pandemic, I have a feeling people will be eager to make up for lost experiences next year. I know I will.

Until then, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the past experiences I’ve enjoyed with Black Friday shopping. The experience of just going to malls, being around crowds, and taking part in holiday festivities are some of my favorite aspects of this time of year. I won’t let 2020 ruin my holidays, but I intend to appreciate future Black Fridays even more.

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Some (Cringy) Thanksgiving Incidents To Get You Through Thanksgiving 2020

Let’s not lie to ourselves. Thanksgiving is going to be very different this year. Pretty much everything has had to be different this year, thanks to a once-in-a-century pandemic. There’s just no way around it. All we can do is adapt and endure.

For some, that means Thanksgiving is not going to be quite as festive. If you enjoy large family gatherings, hanging out near malls for Black Friday sales, or traveling extensively to meet up with relatives, then your Thanksgiving spirit is going to be tempered this year, by default. That’s just the way it is in 2020.

I’m already bracing myself. I’m still getting together with family, but it’s going to be on a much smaller scale than usual. Given how big my family is and how much they love get-togethers, that’s going to make it rough. We’re still going to try and make it work. Thankfully, most of us have already learned to have large gatherings through Zoom and FaceTime.

However, I’d rather not dwell on what this Thanksgiving will lack. In the interest of keeping things balanced, I’d like to do my part to help us endure these pandemic-hampered holidays.

To that end, I’d like to share a video from the channel, Best Posts & Comments. It’s a simple complication of Reddit posts that recounted infamous incidents that occurred on Thanksgiving.

I must offer a clear warning, though. Some of these incidents are quite cringy. Trust me. You’ll know it when you hear it. Cringe or not, I hope it helps you feel a bit better about Thanksgiving this year. Enjoy!

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Have A (Relatively) Happy Labor Day 2020!

To everyone out there who are lucky enough to get today off, Happy Labor Day!

To everyone else who is still working today, I sincerely thank you. Hopefully, you get a chance to make up for it. You deserve it. We all deserve a day off from the hard drudgery of work.

I know it’s somewhat bittersweet. This year had been a real drag for obvious reasons. This summer has been lost for many. Between travel restrictions, closed pools, and cancelled events, this summer has been one to forget.

Now, it’s just about over. As bittersweet as that is, we’re still forging ahead. We’re still dragging our way through 2020. Let’s make Labor Day this year a much-needed breather. Getting through this mess has been harder than most, but we’re making progress. We’ll get to the end eventually. Keep believing that.

For today, though, just take a step back and enjoy how far we’ve come. We all need it. We’ll also need our strength to make it the rest of the way through this year.

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