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Prescient Therapeutics bolsters scientific advisory board with CAR-T and bioengineering experts – Small Caps

Clinical stage oncology company Prescient Therapeutics (ASX: PTX) has made plans to advance and accelerate its proprietary OmniCAR platform after unveiling two high-profile additions to its scientific advisory board.

In a statement to the market, the oncology company said it had appointed physician-scientist, Dr Marco Davila from the Moffitt Cancer Center and bioengineering expert Professor Andrew Tsourkas from the University of Pennsylvania, effective immediately.

The dual appointments are expected to bring unsurpassed expertise to Prescients ongoing development work on CAR-T therapies and binder protein engineering.

The company explained the rationale behind the move by stating that Dr Davila and Professor Tsourkas would bring deep complementary expertise to its operations and would compliment an existing team of highly credentialed personnel on the scientific board.

Currently, the broader team is comprised of CAR-T expert Professor Phil Darcy, hematologist and CAR-T researcher Professor H. Miles Prince and brain cancer specialist and cell therapy researcher Professor Don ORourke.

As a highly experienced clinical developer of CAR-T, Dr Davila is currently regarded as a leading figure in the field and is often invited to address global oncology conferences.

Dr Davila currently works at the Department of Blood and Marrow Transplantation at the Moffitt Cancer Center one of the largest cancer centres in the US treating patients with hematologic malignancies with various cell therapies.

Dr Davilas current research includes pre-clinical development and clinical translation of gene-engineered cell therapies, including CAR-T therapies, for patients with hematologic and solid tumour malignancies.

Moreover, Dr Davilas research has received widespread acclaim including generous grants and awards from the American Society of Hematology, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Society for Clinical Investigation, respectively.

From my clinical experience with CAR-T therapies, as well as their pre-clinical development, I have seen both the early success of this revolutionary therapy in B cell malignancies and also the challenges in translating it to other cancers, said Dr Davila.

I am excited by the capabilities of OmniCAR to overcome many of these obstacles and bring gene-engineered cell therapies to many more patients. I am delighted to be appointed to Prescients SAB to help guide the development of OmniCAR, he added.

According to Prescient Therapeutics, OmniCAR is a universal immune receptor platform enabling controllable T-cell activity and multi-antigen targeting with a single cell product.

The company says it is the first of its kind: the first universal immune receptor allowing post-translational covalent loading of binders to T-cells.

As well as the addition of Dr Davila to its scientific board to help advance OmniCAR, Prescient is also bolstering its ranks from the University of Pennsylvania and an original co-founder of the technology.

Professor Tsourkas is a co-inventor of the patents developed at Penn and licensed by Prescient to form OmniCAR.

OmniCAR is based on technology first licensed from Penn as well as the so-called SpyTag/SpyCatcher binding system licensed from Oxford University. Given OmniCARs development path and close collaboration with Penns researchers, Prescient acquired the services of Professor Tsourkas as an organic fit.

Professor Tsourkas particular expertise in the conjugation of proteins is especially relevant to the development of OmniCARs binders, which involves incorporating SpyTag into antibodies and other antigen-binding molecules, the company said.

It has been wonderful to see the rapid progress of development of OmniCAR since Prescient licensed the underlying patent from Penn last year, said Professor Tsourkas.

The rapid, covalent nature of OmniCARs binding confers many unique capabilities and advantages over conventional CAR-T approaches. I look forward to assisting Prescient in the development of OmniCAR and its associated binders to address a variety of different cancers, Professor Tsourkas added.

Over the next 12 months, Prescient expects to expand the cohort read-out for its PTX-100 drug, as well as complete enrolment in the expansion cohort by Q3 2022. Prescient is confident of announcing several further value-adding milestones for each OmniCAR program throughout 2022.

In addition, Prescient has confirmed it expects to receive results for its PTX-200 Ph1b AML trial early next year with several cell therapy enhancements expected to come out of stealth mode in the first half of 2022.

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Saving the world with synthetic biology – Scope – Scope

Drew Endy, PhD, a Stanford bioengineer, is the kind of brilliant that makes your head spin. His ideas come at a mile a minute, each one a potential mini revolution of standard biology, and his excitement for his work is palpable. But, to me, the best part about Endy is his drive to see a mega-mission through: to use bioengineering to change the world for the better, making contentious efforts to innovate with an eye toward solving social, humanitarian and environmental challenges.

In one of my latest Stanford Medicine magazine stories, "How synthetic biology could save us," I speak to Endy about his lofty vision and the research he's conducting to see it through.

If you ask Endy, synthetic biology is a field that aims to "make the making of things" easier. It's a type of science that expands beyond the natural world, creating tools and techniques to support the development of new biology-based innovations -- like new forms of medicine, or an altered crop that can fight pests on its own.

"We tend to think of biology as something that happens to us," Endy said in the story. "But more and more, we are happening to biology. We're in an era, scientifically, where we can express our intentions into the very kernel of life to allow for possibilities that are simply never going to exist otherwise."

One of Endy's big projects is something he calls "the cleanome," a concept rooted in genetics, but with a twist: In a cleanome, all of an organism's non-crucial genetic elements are removed. (Every living thing contains fundamental genes that support its life, in addition to stretches of DNA that are, essentially, garbage.) The goal is to remove genetic fluff, leaving only the core components that allow an organism to survive.

As Endy said in the story:

If you want to build an organism, you want to definitively know what you're working with, and right now part of what bioengineers are working with is ambiguity."

What bioengineering really needs, according to Endy, is certainty as to which genes are needed for a particular organism to survive along with what each gene is doing. ... Establishing a cleanome for key organisms would allow bioengineers to build and create with more certainty and safety, he said.

Endy and the researchers in his lab have other big ideas percolating too, one of which he's dubbed a "fail-safe" -- basically a built-in self destruct button for an engineered organism. Say, for instance, a scientist creates a type of cancer-fighting cell that runs around the body and gobbles up tumor cells. If that cell started to evolve new cell-gobbling abilities, that would be dangerous. A fail-safe construct built into the cell would notice such a change and kill the rogue cell before it kills its healthy neighbors.

During our interviews, I reflected on the enormity of his proposal: A civilization that not only coexists with bioengineering but also depends on it, harnesses it, continually develops it -- even loves it.

"You'd almost have to be some sort of benevolent dictator to truly see it through," I'd joked to him. He sees it a little differently. "Perhaps more like reluctant philosopher king."

Image by David Plunkert

Saving the world with synthetic biology - Scope - Scope

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Collaboration aims to shrink the urban-rural divide and address the impact of climate change through student research network – EurekAlert

ST. LOUIS, MO, November 18, 2021 Just as there often exists an urban-rural divide in political and environmental landscapes, urban and rural education systems share the common issue of being under-resourced, especially for science education. As climate change looms over rural agricultural communities, urban heat islands could serve as critical partners for anticipating the future of economically important crops. Kristine Callis Duehl, PhD, the Sally and Derick Driemeyer Director of Education Research and Outreach at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and her collaborators at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation and University of Illinois Extension were awarded a three year, $685,000 grant from United States Department of Agriculture to create a synergistic partnership between urban and rural communities in Southern IL to establish a cross-regional curriculum that introduces bioengineering and plant monitoring technology to middle school aged youth in summer programs.

Young people at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in East St. Louis, IL and at the Illinois Extension program in Waterloo, IL will monitor corn growth in both regions by using in-demand technology including drones and a microclimate field monitoring system developed by Danforth Center scientist Nadia Shakoor, PhD. By growing and comparing sweet corn, GMO commodity corn, and non-GMO commodity corn, students will see first-hand how bioengineering improves plant health and crop yield. By conducting joint fieldwork and presenting their ideas at a mini-conference, urban and rural youth will establish a collaboration that generates culturally mindful activities as well as authentic data that can help shed light on the impact of climate change on corn harvests. This collaboration will allow rural students to experience FarmBot robotics at work in smaller, urban plots and allow urban students to experience the use of drones used in precision agriculture on larger, rural farms. Ultimately, through this informal authentic research experience, participants will help develop a culturally informed curriculum that can be launched nationwide to establish a network of urban-rural authentic research hubs for non-formal summer programs.

Young people participating in the project will gain an understanding of gene editing and hands-on experience using robotics to plant corn, as well as experience using drone and microclimate monitoring systems to assess corn growth and the microclimate, said Callis-Duehl. It will also provide technological training, and exposure to data analysis to prepare them for the future, as big data analysis has become increasingly critical in agricultural science.

Youth will also gain leadership experience by providing feedback on curriculum so that it evolves and by teaching the youth the partner program how to use the agricultural technology unique to their research area (urban or rural).

Co-Project Directors include Lisa Walsh, Danforth Plant Science Center, Mark Fryer, Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation and Amy Cope, University of Illinois Extension.

About the Donald Danforth Plant Science CenterFounded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, education, and outreach aim to have impact at the nexus of food security and the environment and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Centers work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

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Creating dangerous viruses in the lab is a bad way to guard against future pandemics – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

USAID animal disease surveillance work in Asia. Credit: Richard Nyberg / USAID. Credit: CC BY-NC 2.0.

In 2011, three top US government scientists penned an opinion piece in The Washington Post arguing why research modifying highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) was a worthy undertaking. At the time, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was facing blowback over having funded experiments that modified the virus to be transmissible among ferrets. The scientists argued that eliciting potentially dangerous mutations in the virus was necessary to protect humanity, should those mutations evolve naturally.

We cannot predict whether or not something will arise naturally, nor when or where it might appear. Given these uncertainties, important information and insights can come from generating a potentially dangerous virus in the laboratory, wrote Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Francis Collins, the head of NIH, and Gary Nabel, then a top official at Faucis institute.

Amid the controversy generated by this influenza research, the US government implemented a pause on federal funding in 2014 for selected research reasonably anticipated to increase transmissibility or pathogenicity of influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses. These were experiments that fell within a subset of scientific study called gain-of-function research. In 2017, the government lifted the pause and put in place a requirement that the US Department of Health and Human Services conduct a risk-benefit assessment on research that could confer these attributes to potential pandemic pathogens.

The federal government continues to fund such experimentation, but, as scientists, media, and online sleuths have delved into the origins of COVID-19, they have revealed weaknesses in past and current government oversight of projects modifying viruses. The revelations have underscored the degree to which gain-of-function research in the name of predicting pandemics is an idea that doesnt seem to fade.

US-funded coronavirus bioengineering. In 2018, EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based nonprofit research organization, submitted a grant proposal to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called DEFUSE: Defusing the Threat of Bat-borne Coronaviruses asking for over $14 million for a three-and-a-half year project to, as the name suggests, prevent a bat coronavirus from spilling over into people and seeding an outbreak. The team would study viral evolution and spillover risk[s] of SARS-related bat coronaviruses by collecting viruses from caves in Yunnan, China and doing experiments that included testing hybrid, lab-created bat coronaviruses on mice engineered to have human receptors.

One eye popping segment in the 2018 EcoHealth proposal to DARPA dealt with finding so-called furin cleavage sites. In SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, a furin cleavage site allows its spike protein to be cut by the furin enzyme present in human airway tissues, making the virus better able to infect cells than others without the feature. The furin cleavage site represents a crucial difference between the COVID-19 virus and its relatives, including SARS-CoV, the virus responsible for the 2003 outbreak of that respiratory disease.

The process by which viruses hijack the cellular machinery of their hosts to reproduce themselves is sloppy, and the viruses that a cell produces arent always identical to the ones that infected the cell to begin with. This sloppiness helps the virus to evolve and adapt to new hostssuch as us. The furin cleavage site in SARS-CoV-2 could have evolved in this way.

Some proponents of the idea that the pandemic began with a lab accident in Wuhan, however, wonder whether the furin cleavage sites presence in the COVID-19 virus is simply a mark of natural viral evolutionan artifact of sloppy viral reproductionor rather is something else entirely: a sign of human bioengineering.

DARPA did not approve EcoHealths 2018 proposal, and its unknown whether the project received other funding. But the EcoHealth proposal, like another of the organizations collaborations with the Wuhan Institute of Virology that did get government funding, show the enduring interest scientists have in modifying viruses in the name of predicting pandemic pathogens. (NIH officials have denied that EcoHealths NIH-funded research is gain of function research, although NIH documents show that the organization failed to adhere to terms related to enhanced viral growth in its hybrid bat coronavirus studies. There is significant debate on what the definition of a dangerous gain-of-function experiment is.)

Predicting pandemics through gain-of-function research. An overarching goal of EcoHealths workas documented in the DARPA proposal and in other projectswas to learn which viruses were poised to spill over, in other words, to predict pandemics. Predicting how and when the next pandemic could arise is important, but tampering with viruses to do so is the wrong way to go about it. Predicting pandemics isnt like predicting the weather.

Weather prediction is a purely observational exercise. We have satellites and other tools to track weather to predict hurricanes. The forecast process begins with observations. Scientists use this data to develop hurricane forecast models. Geophysical fluid dynamics are well understood, based on the laws of physics (i.e. density, flow velocity, pressure, and temperature) enabling scientists to develop atmospheric and climate models.

Scientists do not experiment on clouds to see if they can cause hurricanes.

In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences published its seminal report, Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism. It listed seven experiments of concern that should not be done.

Bioengineering SARS-related coronaviruses in ways that could increase efficient infection of human cells and that increase viral load, pathogenicity, and lethality in mice genetically engineered to have respiratory cells with human features, i.e., humanized mice, as NIH documents show was done by EcoHealth Alliance and its Wuhan partners, would conceivably implicate points 3, 4, and 5 of the 2004 report. Whether the Wuhan experimentation was gain of function is a matter of debate, but some scientists disagree with NIHs assessment that it wasnt.

Ideally, Congress should hold a hearing to debate what kind of research should not be done and do more to investigate the origins of the pandemic. Certainly, there have been calls to do so.

There are other less risky ways of preventing pandemics than conducting gain-of-function research on pathogens. Many pathogens capable of causing human outbreaks originate in animals, and surveillance of wild and domestic animals for signs of illness makes sense. This is the One Health approach. With One Health, the goal is to prevent the spread of deadly zoonotic microbes into humans through improved communication and collaboration between human and veterinary medicine.

Preventing pandemics through rapid identification and response is an important goal; the One Health approach that emphasizes animal and human health and disease surveillance is the key to doing this, not risky gain-of-function research.

Authors note: Many thanks to Richard Ebright, Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Waksman Institute, Rutgers University for his invaluable comments and links to technical references.

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Creating dangerous viruses in the lab is a bad way to guard against future pandemics - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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New imaging technology could buy time for pancreatic cancer patients – University of Rochester

November 18, 2021

The insidiousness of pancreatic cancer is how it develops without showing any definitive symptoms. In most cases, by the time it is diagnosed, it is beyond cure.

And yet, for 10 to 20 percent of patients, pancreatic cancer is caught soon enough, before it has metastasized. This provides surgeons a narrow window of time to try to treat the tumors, shrinking them enough to safely remove them.

University of Rochester engineers, imaging scientists, surgeons, and immunologists are working together on a novel imaging technology to help surgeons make the most of that narrow time frame before the cancer spreads.

Led by Marvin Doyley, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering at the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the collaborators have received a $2.4 million grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering to look at pancreatic cancer tumors in a different waymeasuring not just their size, but also their elasticity and ability to be perfused, or permeated, with blood and other fluids.

Standard imaging modalities such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) have been used to see if a tumor is shrinking, Doyley says. But there is a lot of data that suggests just looking at size reduction by itself is not necessarily the best marker to judge whether patients are responding to therapy. Were basically trying to fix that.

The ultimate goal is to develop an endoscopic device that surgeons could use to look inside the body in order to determine whether a patient is responding to treatment and, if so, when they are ready to undergo tumor removal.

The first step is to demonstrate whether increases in tumor elasticity and perfusion are indeed valid biomarkers to more quickly determine that a tumor is responding to treatment in ways that will help ensure a successful surgical outcome. And if not, to switch to a different treatment.

Pancreatic cancer tumors typically have a stiff barrier around them, which can pinch off the ability of blood vessels to perfuse the tumor with chemotherapy drugs designed to shrink the tumor, Doyley explains.

To address the specific challenges of pancreatic cancer tumors, the researchers will use a combination of two imaging modalities:

This will enable the team to measure whether tumor elasticity and perfusion change in mice models as they respond to various tumor-shrinking therapiesand if so, to fine tune the ability of the imaging technology to detect the changes.

These images from magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance elastography are from a patient with pancreatic cancer. Arrows point to tumors. (Images courtesy of the Doyley lab)

Then, the researchers will use analogous forms of MRI imaging to see how the same properties change in actual patients undergoing treatment.

Once a patient is initially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, well track how those biomarkers vary as they have their different treatments, Doyley says. We cant do a full clinical trial, but we can retrospectively see, in patients who have responded, if there is a corresponding change in the biomarkers we are looking at.

And if there is indeed a link between the biomarkers and treatments, continues Doyley, we will apply for a bigger grant to create an endoscopic device and do a bigger study with more patients.

Collaborators include Brian Pogue, recently appointed chair of the Department of Medical Physics at the University of WisconsinMadison, and, at Rochester, David Lenihan, professor and chair of surgery; Scott Gerber, associate professor of surgery and of microbiology and immunology; Aram Hezel, associate professor of hematology/oncology; Tanzy Love, associate professor of biostatistics; Jonathan Kallas, assistant professor of imaging sciences, and David Dombroski, associate professor of imaging sciences.

Tags: Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, health care, Marvin Doyley, medical center, research funding

Category: Science & Technology

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New imaging technology could buy time for pancreatic cancer patients - University of Rochester

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Jurassic World Evolution 2 review: When dinosaurs ruled the Earth – Shacknews

Jurassic World Evolution launched in the same year as the second film in the rebooted blockbuster series and gave fans the opportunity to live out their own dreams of opening a theme park full of dinosaurs. Three years later, the games sequel looks to double down on that promise, putting even more tools and options in the hands of players. Jurassic World Evolution 2 cleverly expands upon what was built in the first game, delivering the definitive Jurassic experience.

In Jurassic World 2, players can build their own dinosaur theme park using enclosures, facilities, and scientists. Theres a lot of systems at play, and the core game is a balancing act of making sure your dinosaurs are taken care of and happy, guests are happy, and that your park is turning a profit.

Players are introduced to the games mechanics in Campaign mode. Set after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, players will work with the DFW (Department of Fish and Wildlife) to control, conserve, and contain the wild dinosaurs that now roam the planet. Each chapter of the Campaign has players in different locations looking to build a functioning park or conservation area. From Arizona, to Washington, California and more, it was neat to have a diverse offering of environments, rather than the jungle settings that we always see in Jurassic Park adaptations.

The Campaign is brief, easily beatable in a couple of sittings. That said, its a satisfying experience that eases players into the different systems that they will have to juggle. As someone who can sometimes feel overwhelmed in management sims, I felt equipped to deal with just about everything Jurassic World Evolution 2 threw at me. It was also cool having Jeff Goldblum and Bryce Dallas Howard reprise their roles from the films and serve as mentors throughout the story.

When building a successful park, theres a lot that players will need to take into account. Enclosures need to be built for every dinosaur, as to keep both the guests and creatures safe. Each species of dinosaur has its own unique needs that inform the player how to design their enclosure. For example, Velociraptors desire a lot of open space, as well as live prey to hunt down. The Carnotaurus wanted to be in a sandy environment, so I had to whip out the brush tool and make their enclosure look like a desert.

Theres over 75 species of dinosaurs featured in Jurassic World Evolution 2, and each one feels distinct from the next. This game also adds flying and marine creatures, adding more variety to what players can do with their parks.

Players can get a full read of everything they need to know about a dinosaur by pulling up its information page. This tells the player a dinosaurs comfort level, health status, genetic makeup, and even a stats page that will show you everything from a dinos age and dollar value, to how many creatures its killed and how many times it broke out of its enclosure. The amount of information the game gives makes each creature feel unique. I found myself growing attachments to some of the dinosaurs I had long term and I was genuinely saddened when they died or became unwell.

One of my favorite things to do in Jurassic World Evolution 2 was to hop into a ranger truck, and then drive around an enclosure in first-person. Seeing dinosaurs like the T-Rex and Brontosaurus up close, scaled to actual size, was incredible.

In addition to having cool dinosaurs and making sure theyre taken care of, players still need to manage a theme park. Buildings like viewing centers, restaurants, gift shops, and hotels make the guests happy, increasing profits. On the business side of things, operation facilities like the Control Center, Medical Facility, and Response Facility are integral to maintaining your park. Scientists can be hired to carry out tasks such as healing dinosaurs, going on expeditions to acquire new creatures, and conducting research in order to unlock new structures and perks. Each scientist has their own advantages and disadvantages, as well as a salary to match.

Theres a deep level of strategy and management just on the business side of things. Having to properly budget my income so that I could afford scientists, managing their time so that they didnt become fatigued or disgruntled. Fostering an environment that made my guests feel safe and excited to spend money was a good deal of fun on its own.

My only frustration with Jurassic World 2 comes in the repetitiveness of its gameplay loop, particularly early on in a playthrough. From random weather conditions, to illnesses and dinosaurs deciding to break fences and escape their enclosure, it can feel like youre in a constant state of panic, frequently pausing time to play an endless game of whack-a-mole. As more perks are unlocked, this becomes a bit less stressful.

One of the most fascinating mechanics in Jurassic World Evolution 2 is its bioengineering system, which lets players create their own dinosaurs just as Dr. Henry Wu and his team of scientists did in the films. Using a Hatchery, players can combine genomes from different species of reptiles in order to create a dinosaur thats wholly unique. These dinosaurs can have special behavioral traits, colors, and patterns. I spent a considerable amount of time just screwing around in Sandbox mode seeing what wild abominations I could come up with.

Chaos Theory is a new mode in Jurassic World Evolution 2 and puts players in scenarios from the Jurassic Park/World series, giving them a chance to rewrite history. These what if scenarios include realizing John Hammonds dream of building a Jurassic Park in San Diego, or maintaining Jurassic World on Isla Nublar without the incident in 2015. These missions offered a fresh challenge and are an excellent way to revisit major turning points in the franchise.

Jurassic World Evolution 2 is endless fun for a fan of the blockbuster franchise. A large library of species to unlock and study, bioengineering, and the ability to revisit iconic moments from the movies makes it an easy recommendation for anyone looking for their fix of Jurassic content. Even as a park manager, the game is quite satisfying, aside from some light frustrations here or there.

This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Jurassic World Evolution 2 is available now for $59.99 USD on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, and PC.

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokmon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

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Jurassic World Evolution 2 review: When dinosaurs ruled the Earth - Shacknews

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