Mutation that protects against HIV raises death rate

In this Nov. 28, 2018, file photo, He Jiankui speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong. (AP)
Updated 04 June 2019
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Mutation that protects against HIV raises death rate

  • The study found that participants with the mutation in both copies had a death rate about 20 percent higher than that of the others
  • About 4,000 participants carried the mutation in both copies, of whom 151 were dead

NEW YORK: People with a DNA mutation that reduces their chance of HIV infection may die sooner, according to a study that suggests tinkering with a gene to try to fix one problem may cause others.
The study authors cited the case of the Chinese researcher who tried to produce this mutation in twin girls before their birth, to reduce their risk for HIV.  His work, which produced the first gene-edited babies, was widely condemned as unethical and risky, and the new paper illustrates one reason for concern.
“You should consider all the effects of mutations you induce,” said Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley, senior author of the paper , released Monday by the journal Nature Medicine.
Nielsen acknowledged that his result cannot be applied directly to the two girls in China. For one thing, his study focused on a sample of people in the United Kingdom who may have different genetic backgrounds than the Chinese girls.
In addition, the people he studied had inherited a specific mutation. The Chinese scientist tried to create the same mutation, but failed. The girls now carry different alterations in the same gene.
The gene is called CCR5. When it is working normally, it lets certain cells of the immune system display a protein on their surfaces. HIV has co-opted that protein to use as a doorway to infect those cells. The mutation prevents that protein from appearing, and so sharply reduces the risk of HIV infection.
Past studies have suggested that carrying the mutation has some drawbacks, including a heightened risk of death from flu.
Nielsen and Xinzhu Wei, also at UC Berkeley, studied data on about 400,000 people who’d signed up between 2006 and 2010 for the UK Biobank, which collected extensive information on them and is following their health. They compared people who carry the mutation in both copies of their CCR5 gene to those who carry it in just one copy or neither, and looked for deaths recorded through February 2016.
About 4,000 participants carried the mutation in both copies, of whom 151 were dead. Analysis focused on deaths between ages 41 and 76.
The study found that participants with the mutation in both copies had a death rate about 20 percent higher than that of the others.  A second analysis showed that at the time participants signed up for the databank, when their average age was about 57, there were fewer people with the mutation in both copies of the gene than one would expect. That’s another sign of a higher death rate.
The researchers were unable to get information on the causes of deaths, so they have no firm explanation for the difference in mortality, Nielsen said. But the heightened risk of death from flu may have played an important role, he said. He also said the size of the difference would probably differ in other groups of people.
Dr. Philip Murphy, an immunologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, said the work provided the first peek at the mutation’s effect on mortality from all causes over a wide swath of the lifespan. “That’s a big deal,” he said.
Nielsen said the study does not apply to a form of gene therapy that differs from what the Chinese researcher did. Some scientists have been inactivating CCR5 in blood cells of people already infected with HIV, to help keep the virus under control. In that situation, having the disabled gene is probably an advantage, Nielsen said.
James Riley, who studies that strategy at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed. Riley said his work affects only a tiny fraction of blood cells, while people in Nielsen’s study with the higher death rate had CCR5 shut off in every cell of the body.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the NIAID, said the new study did not apply broadly to gene editing experiments underway now. Researchers are mainly focused on replacing a defective gene with a working one, or eliminating a harmful one. In contrast, the people in Nielsen’s study were living without a normal, working version of a gene, a condition the Chinese researcher sought to produce.
Fauci said the work is more a lesson that genetic protection against one thing can raise vulnerability to something else.


It takes a hacker to catch a hacker, says prize-winning Saudi cyber whiz

Cybersecurity is growing in importance and cyberwars now represent a serious threat to national security. (FIle/Shutterstock)
Updated 15 June 2019
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It takes a hacker to catch a hacker, says prize-winning Saudi cyber whiz

  • Cybersecurity specialist and winner of innovator award takes aim against rising threat of cybercrime

JEDDAH: A Saudi ethical hacker named “inspiring innovator of the year” at a prestigious awards ceremony in London has revealed her secret for staying one step ahead of cyberattackers.
“I act as an attacker and adopt the hacker’s mindset,” 28-year-old cybersecurity specialist Noor Al-Rayes told Arab News.
“It takes a hacker to catch a hacker.”
Al-Rayes, founder and CEO of Alien Security and co-founder and chief operation officer of Securmind, received the “inspiring innovator of the year” award from London-based private bank Arbuthnot Latham on June 5.

Information security
After accepting the award, she urged governments and businesses to step up their campaign and be more aggressive in the fight against cybercrime.
“Many companies offer ethical hacking services, but they approach it from an information security perspective, not a hacker perspective.
“We believe this service must be provided in a more aggressive way, exactly like hackers do,” she said.
“The severity and complexity of recent cyberattacks require more than traditional approaches to fight cybercrime and maximize cyber defense.
“Ethical hacking should be part of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy. When I provide ethical hacking services, I act as an attacker and adopt the hacker’s mindset. That way, companies will stay one step ahead of attackers and avoid costly cyber breaches.
“There is no better way to test the security level of IT systems than borrowing the skills of an experienced ethical hacker, which is why I created Alien Security,” she said.
Al-Rayes described recent major advances in the digital world as “a double-edged sword,” and warned that future cybersecurity incidents could prove “catastrophic.”
“Advances in technology have brought so many positive aspects, but there is a downside ... everything is susceptible to hacking,” she said. “If a hacker has the right skills, experience, knowledge, tools and time, they will be able to hack into any system.”

Serious threat
Cybersecurity is growing in importance, Al-Rayes said, and cyberwars now represent a serious threat to national security.
“The outcomes of a major cybersecurity incident of that nature could be catastrophic, which is why ethical hackers are a powerful addition to any defense strategy where they work both on the defensive and offensive sides,” she said.
Al-Rayes came to the UK on the King Abdullah Scholarship Program and gained a master’s degree in cybersecurity at City University of London.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Cybercrime will cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to a recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures.

• Cybercrime costs include damage and destruction of data, stolen money, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, theft of personal and financial data, embezzlement, fraud, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, forensic investigation, restoration and deletion of hacked data and systems and reputational harm, according to experts.

“I was endorsed by the UK government and was granted an exceptional talent visa and world leader in technology. I also received the young achievers award at a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament, and was recognized as a future leader for my efforts for the cybersecurity industry,” she said.
The Saudi entrepreneur founded the cybersecurity consultancy Alien Security in 2018.
“We provide cybersecurity penetration testing, management and support. We also provide cybersecurity forensics where we launch a full cybersecurity investigation to explain how the cyberattack happened, why, when, and how we can fix it and avoid it in the future.”
Al-Rayes said she was honored to receive Arbuthnot Latham’s inspiring innovator of the year award.
“Arbuthnot Latham offers great support for startups and entrepreneurs. I am very happy I got the chance to share my passion with them and introduce Alien Security to the amazing audience at the event. I also hope that I made my country proud as the government and everyone at the Saudi Embassy and Cultural Bureau in London were extremely supportive and encouraging.
“As for receiving it as a Saudi woman, it is our mission as scholarship holders to represent our country in the best way possible, and I hope I fulfilled my part and will continue to do so throughout my journey,” Al-Rayes said.
“We already have such strong and amazing Saudi women ... and I hope this inspires more women and encourages them to get involved in science and cybersecurity.”
Al-Rayes also said that receiving the exceptional talent visa was a “great honor and a major boost as a cybersecurity specialist, woman and a Saudi student.”
“It pushed me to work harder. I was endorsed by the UK government and recognized as a world leader in technology because of my entrepreneurial career and also for the projects I am working on now, including a project fighting cyber terrorism.
“There are a lot of pressing issues that requires immediate attention such as human error in information security, improving facial and object recognition systems to minimize cyber terrorism, analyzing dark web criminal activity and detecting cybercrime. These are some of the projects that I am gathering data for.”

Artificial intelligence
Al-Rayes’ master’s project explored the targeting of cybercrime within dark web forums using machine learning, artificial intelligence and data mining techniques.
“The dark web is an underground society for criminal activity, including cyberterrorism,” said Al-Rayes.

 

 “The main goal of this project is to aid police and governments in fighting cybercrime using an advanced and intelligent system that can target specific crimes, detect and analyze them.”
She highlighted that many extremist groups use social media and the dark web to recruit young people.
“Using artificial intelligence and advanced technology to help fight these problems is important since it would be used not only for detection purposes but also for analyzing criminal behavior and recognizing threats before it is too late.
“That is why I am working on redeveloping this project and enhancing the training to make the system more powerful.”

Decoder

• Exceptional talent visas are granted to international individuals who can prove they have had an exceptional impact on the industry in which they work. • It is also given to people working on projects that will significantly advance the industry and benefit the economy.