What’s the News: Epidemiologists have long noticed that people with drug addictions often start out smoking cigarettes before moving on to harder stuff. Whether that’s because there’s something about cigarettes that makes people vulnerable to other drugs or because certain kinds of people are predisposed to addiction (or for some other reason entirely) is an open question, and the idea of so-called “gateway drugs” has been a controversial topic in addiction for years. Now, an elegant new study in mice has discovered a mechanism that could explain the gateway drug effect: nicotine actually changes the expression of genes linked to addiction.
What’s the News: Medicine in the age of genes overflows with daring new techniques and treatments, from personalized chemotherapy to prenatal genetic testing, each heralded as a game-changer. But rarely do we get an assessment of a treatment’s long-term good, which is why recent papers following up on one of the most controversial genetic treatments, gene therapy, are making waves: though one patient developed leukemia from the treatment, 13 of 16 kids treated with gene therapy for a severe immune disorder at least 9 years ago have been cured, adding to the sense that the field is on its way to recovery from early setbacks.