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Twitter, Research Tool

Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been credited with helping to start revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the Middle East. But, says Genomics Law Report's Dan Vorhaus, social media's influence doesn't need to be limited to politics — personalized medicine could become the next area that owes its development to such platforms. Last month, an online patient community called PatientsLikeMe published a study in Nature Biotechnology in which it analyzed self-reported data from 600 patients to show that the use of lithium had no effect on the progression of Lou Gehrig's disease, Vorhaus says. "The Nature Biotechnology publication is a validation of the company's efforts and, while not a substitute for traditional clinical trials, the PatientsLikeMe approach does demonstrate that social media tools, including networks of like-minded individuals (in this case ALS patients) 'can provide supplementary data to support effective decision-making in medicine and discovery,'" he adds, quoting the company's co-founder Jamie Heywood. And this study is simply the latest development in an ongoing trend, Vorhaus says — companies like 23andMe are using customer-driven data from their DTC genetic tests and social media to find novel genetic associations for disease, and several nonprofit companies have been founded by parents whose children suffer from genetic diseases to aid in the search for causes and treatments.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.