While Oxford Dictionaries have chosen selfie as the word of the year, the Merriam-Webster dictionaries used quite different criteria to establish their 2013 word top and the winner is science. Why so many of us were interested in science during the past year has been a matter of intense discussion in the past couple of days. But one of the major distinguishing traits of science is that it is future-focused above all; so should we have even higher expectations for 2014?
Most of us literally deposit our expectations on Biobanks: “trendy libraries” to watch in the coming year. The use of sets of samples stored in biobanks spread across the world but interconnected with each other will allow researchers to concentrate on issues that were difficult to address when data coming from relatively small numbers of patients were the only option available. Biobank-based research is expected to have an impact on our understanding of human diseases, with a particular focus on the mechanisms behind the genetic etiology of mental, degenerative or chronic conditions. Also, biobanks will contribute to the ongoing efforts of shifting current therapeutic approaches to more personalized therapies through the use of pharmacogenomics . The social influence of biobanks and the research associated with the deposited samples will extend to fields such as health economics, with the potential to contribute decisively to discussions shaping policy-making by governments.
Another example of an exciting scientific development to look for in the near future is genome editing and its implications to gene therapy. Very recently, a technical advance has been reported that allows scientists to accurately manipulate the human genome. The new technology is actually adapted from the mechanisms behind the bacterial immune system-like components that fight invading viruses. This technology, known as CRISPR (clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)/Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9), is already the basis for a new Massachussets-based company that will devote its business plan to the development of therapies to modify disease-related genes by changing the DNA sequence of the genome (see here for a simple but comprehensive explanation s of the technique) . It is not clear yet how and when CRISPR will contribute to the treatment of genetic diseases that are currently incurable. However, the hopes are high and new developments are expected during the net year.
So science was our favorite word this year. Our interests focused on climate change, new therapies, the brain, vaccines, education, technology and much more. Only the future will tells us if our high expectations of all science-related issues are to be met. To start, let’s make 2014 another great “science” year.
And for the 2013 preview see here.