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Category Archives: Human Genetic Engineering

Infographic: What the US public thinks about tinkering with human genetics – Genetic Literacy Project

The Pew Research Center published a fascinating roundup of studies that revealed the opinions of the U.S. public on a number of key science-related issues. The researchers wanted to find out what people thought overall about the role of science and scientists in society, but also to see more specifically how far modern humans are willing to go with genetic engineering and automation.

Theresponses showthat people are generally not as worried as youd think about messing with human genetics but when it comes to implanting technology to enhance bodies, doubts proliferate. A strong uneasiness also pervades responses dealing with robots in workplaces.

The Pew Research Center, which carried out thestudy, pinpointed a specific theme in the findings, citing the loss of human control, especially if such developments would be at odds with personal, religious and ethical values as the key source of hesitancy when people think about future technologies. Proposals that give people more control over tech met with more positive response.

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Infographic: What the US public thinks about tinkering with human genetics - Genetic Literacy Project

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Are genetically designed babies the future of humankind? – NewsPatrolling

What we already know is genome modification of the somatic (vegetative or non-reproductive cells) has begun. The approach is now taking a new turn and further proceeding towards clinical applications. Recent studies suggest that germline genome modification is also taking place. Genetics has further enabled us to turn the tide away from humans suffering from diseases.

As a matter of fact, Genetic Engineering is now allowing us to inculcate desirable traits into human cells, which shall soon become the future of humankind. But, the matter of discussion here is what are the limitations that are needed to be exercised on this genetic evolution aligned with technology? Here, we have managed to come up with almost all the information that has been discovered about genetically engineered human beings. Read on to have an in-depth view of the future of the Homo sapiens.

What do you understand by Genetic Modification?

The process of making changes in the gene make up of an organism is referred to as genetic modification. Gene modification has been taking place in the form of evolution from thousands of years now. And it has so because of selective or controlled breeding of the plants and as well as of the animals. However, with the introduction of biotechnology, this process has fastened up a lot more than we can imagine. Through genetic engineering now we can target specific genes for precise results.

Genetically modified babies:

We are all aware of the fact that livestock is being bred in a certain way that results in improved growth and increased muscle mass. Also, this livestock is specifically resistant against diseases. For instance, we could consider the examples of hybrid chickens that have been bred in such a way, that they show 300-per cent faster growth today. For a few years now the scientists have been experimenting on lab animals to determine different approaches of Biotechnology.

According to the information gathered from the National Human Genome Research Institute, the new form of Biotechnology that has been used to develop CRISPR is going to make modifications to the human genes. The researchers are now trying to find out ways in which the Crispr gene shall be able to treat cancer. Basically, the scientists suggest that CRISPR can edit particular genes in human beings, which could be the leading cause of cancer.

Although the reports obtained are highly controversial, the introduction of genetically engineered human beings is not far away. The researchers are claiming that the tested CRISPR technology will work on the human embryos to delete or edit per se to eliminate the DNA, which could lead to certain diseases.

The ethical dilemma:

The technology has been already evolved, and the gene that could bring about changes in the human genetic system has already been discovered. But, the question is whether this genetic modification should be implemented or not. When it comes to the introduction of any new technology, its merits, demerits, and the intention behind its usage must be measured beforehand.

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Are genetically designed babies the future of humankind? - NewsPatrolling

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The growing viral threat – The Week

Infectious disease experts warn that it's inevitable that a virus will jump from animals to humans and kill tens of millions. Here's everything you need to know:

Why are experts worried?Picture a new viral disease like the Wuhan coronavirus, now called COVID-19, that passes easily from person to person and spreads rapidly around the globe. But unlike COVID-19, which kills perhaps 2 or 3 percent of its victims, this virus kills 20 percent of those infected. Or 40 percent. It might sound like a disaster movie premise (and in fact it was, in 2011's Contagion), but viral disease experts are in wide agreement that such a pandemic is coming, and that it will inflict unimaginable devastation. The only question is when it will hit. Last September, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), a group convened in 2018 by the World Bank and the World Health Organization, warned of "a very real threat" of a pandemic that would kill 50 million to 80 million people, cost $3 trillion, and create "widespread havoc, instability, and insecurity." We need only look to the recent past to see how dire things can get: The Spanish flu of 1918 killed between 50 million and 100 million (including 675,000 Americans), or about 3 percent of the global population.

Where would such a virus come from?The most likely scenario is a pathogen that jumps from animals to humans and can spread through the air. The outbreak of COVID-19 was traced to a live-animal market in Wuhan, China, where a bat virus appears to have added some genetic material from a soldierfish. Many viral diseases have been traced to animals, including HIV (which originated in chimpanzees), MERS (camels), SARS (probably bats and civet cats), and Ebola (unknown, but probably bats). Last year researchers at Johns Hopkins ran a simulation of a hypothetical coronavirus emerging from a Brazilian pig farm: The result was 65 million dead within 18 months. Another concern is a familiar very deadly virus that mutates, allowing it to spread more easily. The avian flu H5N1, for example, has proven highly lethal but not very communicable so far. The intentional or accidental release of a manmade pathogen is another threat; new genetic engineering tools have made them far easier to create. A laptop captured from ISIS in 2014 contained instructions on how to weaponize plague bacteria.

Why is this more of a problem now?Human population growth. People are encroaching on previously wild areas where unknown viruses and bacteria lurk in animals; those who become infected carry the pathogens back to densely packed cities, where disease is easily spread. The 1998 emergence of the Nipah virus, for example, was linked to deforestation in Malaysia that displaced fruit bats and put them near pig farms. Pigs became infected, and the virus then spread to farmworkers. In the past 50 years, more than 300 pathogens have emerged or re-emerged, including Zika and yellow fever. At the same time, climate change has enabled insects and animals that carry disease to expand their habitats to new regions. Human migratory patterns are a factor as well: The surge in international travel allows viruses to spread around the globe quickly. "We've created an interconnected, dynamically changing world that provides innumerable opportunities to microbes," says Richard Hatchett of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. "If there's weakness anywhere, there's weakness everywhere."

Are we prepared for a major pandemic?Not at all. A report released last October by the Global Health Security Index found glaring gaps in readiness; out of 195 countries surveyed, not one was judged fully prepared to handle a major event. In the U.S. under President Trump, the federal budgets for both research and response preparation have been cut, the National Security Council's global health security unit has been disbanded, and the White House official in charge of pandemic response left his job in 2018 and has not been replaced. We're caught in a "cycle of panic and neglect," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "We throw money at an outbreak, and when it's over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one."

What needs to be done?Experts say the U.S. and other countries need to spend vastly more money on pandemic preparedness. We need to develop better diagnostic tools, stockpile drugs and vaccines, and fund research into new treatments and vaccine technologies. Above all, there needs to be an international effort to improve sanitation, medical care, and response capability in poorer countries where new diseases are most likely to arise and spread. All of this requires a major change in mindset, say experts. "The world needs to prepare for pandemics the same way it prepares for war," said Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who's invested tens of millions in viral disease research. Humanity's biggest threat, he says, is "not missiles, but microbes."

It's happened many times beforeEpidemics have been a fact of life since the first human settlements. As humans built cities and trade routes, the capacity for pandemics grew, and history is marred by many devastating outbreaks. The earliest on record dates to 430 B.C., when a pestilence that may have been typhoid fever took root in Athens, killing up to two-thirds of the city's population. In A.D. 541, the Justinian plague spread through the Mediterranean world; recurrences over the next two centuries would kill more than 25 percent of the world's population. In the 14th century, another outbreak of plague, called the Black Death driven by fleas that live on rats but can bite humans claimed over 75 million lives, including some 60 percent of the population of Europe, whose cities were piled with reeking corpses. In the 16th and 17th centuries Native Americans were ravaged by smallpox and other diseases brought by European conquerors and colonists; in some areas as much as 90 percent of native populations were wiped out. The pandemic with the greatest number of casualties in history was the Spanish flu of 1918. It infected some 500 million people worldwide a third of the population and killed as many as 100 million.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, try the magazine for a month here.

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Solution for a scourge? University of Minnesota scientist is progressing with carp-killer tool – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Sam Erickson followed his love of science to outer space one summer during an internship at NASA. He came away fascinated by seeing into deep space by interpreting interaction between matter and infrared radiation.

Now a full-fledged researcher at the University of Minnesotas College of Biological Sciences, the 25-year-old Alaska native is immersed in something far more earthly: killing carp. His fast-moving genetic engineering project is drawing attention from around the country as a potential tool to stop the spread of invasive carp.

I want to make a special fish, Erickson said in a recent interview at Gortner Laboratory in Falcon Heights.

In short, he plans to produce batches of male carp that would destroy the eggs of female carp during spawning season. The modified male fish would spray the eggs as if fertilizing them. But the seminal fluid thanks to DNA editing would instead cause the embryonic eggs to biologically self-destruct in a form of birth control that wouldnt affect other species nor create mutant carp in the wild.

His goal is to achieve the result in a controlled setting using common carp. From there, it will be up to federal regulators and fisheries biologists to decide whether to translate the technology to constrain reproduction of invasive carp in public waters.

What were developing is a tool, Erickson said. If we could make this work, it would be a total game-changer.

Supervised by University of Minnesota assistant professor Michael Smanski, Erickson recently received approval to accelerate his project by hiring a handful of undergraduate assistants. He also traveled last month to Springfield, Ill., to present his research plan to the 2020 Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference.

Were pretty excited about where his project is at, said Nick Phelps, director of the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center at the U. Things are sure moving fast. Theres excitement and caution.

Ericksons research has received funding from Minnesotas Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. No breeding populations of invasive carp have been detected in Minnesota, but the Department of Natural Resources has confirmed several individual fish captures and the agency has worked to keep the voracious eaters from migrating upstream from the lower Mississippi River. Silver carp, bighead carp and other Asian carps pose a threat to rivers and lakes in the state because they would compete with native species for food and habitat.

Erickson views his birth control project as one possible piece in the universitys integrated Asian carp research approach to keep invasive carp out of state waters. Already the DNR has supported electric barriers and underwater sound and bubble deterrents at key migration points. Another Asian carp-control milestone was closing the Mississippi River lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis in 2015.

Shooting star

Growing up in Anchorage, Erickson had never heard of Macalester College in St. Paul. But he visited the campus at the urging of a friend and felt like he fit in. He majored in chemistry and worked for a year at 3M in battery technology. But his interests tilted toward the natural world and how to better live in cooperation with nature, he said. Erickson met with Smanski about research opportunities at the university and was hired on the spot.

Smanski, one of the universitys top biological engineers, said carp is not an easy organism to work with and Erickson lacked experience in the field. But he hired the young researcher and assigned him to the carp birth control project because he seemed to have a rare blend of determination and intelligence.

I could tell right away when I was talking to him that he was like a shooting star, Smanski said. If you set a problem in front of him, he wont stop until he solves it Hes taken this farther than anyone else.

In two short years, Smanksi said, Erickson has mastered genetic engineering to the point that his research is starting to bear fruit.

With his new complement of research assistants, Erickson aims to clear his projects first major hurdle sometime this year. The challenge is to model his experiment in minnow-sized freshwater zebrafish. The full genetic code of zebrafish like common carp is already known.

Ericksons task is to make a small change to the DNA sequence of male zebrafish, kind of like inserting a DNA cassette into the fish, he said. During reproduction, the alteration will create lethal overexpression of genes in the embryonic eggs laid by females.

By analogy, Erickson said, the normal mating process is like a symphony with a single conductor turning on genes inside each embryo, Erickson said. But the DNA modification sends in a mess of conductors and the mixed signals destroy each embryo within 24 hours.

In the lab we have to make sure were causing the disruption with no off-target effects, he said. If we can do this in zebrafish, we hope to translate it. They are genetically similar to carp.

Ericksons upcoming experimentation with tank-dwelling live carp could be painfully slow because the fish only mate once a year. But hes working his way around that problem by altering lighting conditions and changing other stimuli in his lab to stagger when batches of fish are ready to reproduce.

The birth control process projected to be affordable for fisheries managers if it receives approval is already proven to work in yeast and insects. And Erickson said the same principles of molecular genetics have been used to create an altered, fast-growing version of Atlantic salmon approved for human consumption in the U.S.

Were not building a new carp from the bottom up but its kind of a whole new paradigm, so we have to get it done right, he said.

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Fate Therapeutics Reports Fourth Quarter 2019 Financial Results and Operational Progress with 2020 Outlook – Yahoo Finance

Reported Initial Clinical Data from FT500 Phase 1 Study in Advanced Solid Tumors, Supporting Safety and Tolerability of Multi-dose Treatment Paradigm for Off-the-shelf, iPSC-derived NK Cells

First Patients Treated with FT516, the First-ever Engineered iPSC-derived Cellular Immunotherapy, for AML and for B-cell Lymphoma in Combination with Rituximab

Initiated Enrollment of First-in-human Clinical Trial of FT596, the First-ever Cellular Immunotherapy Engineered with Three Active Anti-tumor Modalities

Ended Quarter with $261 Million in Cash, Cash Equivalents and Marketable Securities

SAN DIEGO, March 02, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Fate Therapeutics, Inc. (FATE), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the development of programmed cellular immunotherapies for cancer and immune disorders, today reported business highlights and financial results for the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2019.

In 2019, we made tremendous progress in pioneering the clinical development of off-the-shelf, iPSC-derived cancer immunotherapy. Our FT500 program demonstrated that multiple doses of iPSC-derived NK cells can be delivered off-the-shelf to a patient in a safe manner without patient matching. Additionally, our FT516 program provided initial clinical evidence that engineered iPSC-derived NK cells may confer anti-tumor activity and deliver clinically meaningful benefit to patients. We also showed the unmatched scalability of our proprietary iPSC product platform, having manufactured hundreds of cryopreserved, infusion-ready doses of our iPSC-derived NK cell product candidates at a low cost per dose in our new GMP manufacturing facility, said Scott Wolchko, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fate Therapeutics. In 2020, we look forward to additional clinical data from our FT500 and FT516 programs, and initial clinical data from FT596, our ground-breaking iPSC-derived CAR NK cell product candidate for the treatment of B-cell malignancies designed to overcome many of the limitations inherent in current CAR T-cell immunotherapies. We also expect to begin clinical investigation of our off-the-shelf, iPSC-derived NK cell programs in multiple myeloma with planned IND submissions for FT538, the first-ever CRISPR-edited, iPSC-derived cell therapy, and for FT576, our multi-antigen targeted, CAR-BCMA product candidate. Finally, under our collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering, we strive to be the first group in the world to bring off-the-shelf, iPSC-derived CAR T-cell therapy to patients.

Clinical Programs

Preclinical Pipeline

Fourth Quarter 2019 Financial Results

Today's Conference Call and Webcast

The Company will conduct a conference call today, Monday, March 2, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. ET to review financial and operating results for the quarter ended December 31, 2019. In order to participate in the conference call, please dial 877-303-6229 (domestic) or 631-291-4833 (international) and refer to conference ID 9879730. The live webcast can be accessed under "Events & Presentations" in the Investors & Media section of the Company's website at The archived webcast will be available on the Company's website beginning approximately two hours after the event.

About Fate Therapeutics iPSC Product PlatformThe Companys proprietary induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) product platform enables mass production of off-the-shelf, engineered, homogeneous cell products that can be administered with multiple doses to deliver more effective pharmacologic activity, including in combination with cycles of other cancer treatments. Human iPSCs possess the unique dual properties of unlimited self-renewal and differentiation potential into all cell types of the body. The Companys first-of-kind approach involves engineering human iPSCs in a one-time genetic modification event and selecting a single engineered iPSC for maintenance as a clonal master iPSC line. Analogous to master cell lines used to manufacture biopharmaceutical drug products such as monoclonal antibodies, clonal master iPSC lines are a renewable source for manufacturing cell therapy products which are well-defined and uniform in composition, can be mass produced at significant scale in a cost-effective manner, and can be delivered off-the-shelf for patient treatment. As a result, the Companys platform is uniquely capable of overcoming numerous limitations associated with the production of cell therapies using patient- or donor-sourced cells, which is logistically complex and expensive and is subject to batch-to-batch and cell-to-cell variability that can affect clinical safety and efficacy. Fate Therapeutics iPSC product platform is supported by an intellectual property portfolio of over 300 issued patents and 150 pending patent applications.

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About FT500

FT500 is an investigational, universal, off-the-shelf natural killer (NK) cell cancer immunotherapy derived from a clonal master induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) line. The product candidate is being investigated in an open-label, multi-dose Phase 1 clinical trial for the treatment of advanced solid tumors (NCT03841110). The study is designed to assess the safety and tolerability of three once-weekly doses of FT500 as a monotherapy and in combination with one of three FDA-approved immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapies nivolumab, pembrolizumab or atezolizumab in patients that have failed prior ICI therapy. Despite the clinical benefit conferred by approved ICI therapy against a variety of tumor types, these therapies are not curative and, in most cases, patients either fail to respond or their disease progresses on these agents. One common mechanism of resistance to ICI therapy is associated with loss-of-function mutations in genes critical for antigen presentation. A potential strategy to overcome resistance is through the administration of allogeneic NK cells, which have the inherent capability to recognize and directly kill tumor cells with these mutations.

About FT516

FT516 is an investigational, universal, off-the-shelf natural killer (NK) cell cancer immunotherapy derived from a clonal master induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) line engineered to express a novel high-affinity 158V, non-cleavable CD16 (hnCD16) Fc receptor, which has been modified to prevent its down-regulation and to enhance its binding to tumor-targeting antibodies. CD16 mediates antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), a potent anti-tumor mechanism by which NK cells recognize, bind and kill antibody-coated cancer cells. ADCC is dependent on NK cells maintaining stable and effective expression of CD16, which has been shown to undergo considerable down-regulation in cancer patients. In addition, CD16 occurs in two variants, 158V or 158F, that elicit high or low binding affinity, respectively, to the Fc domain of IgG1 antibodies. Numerous clinical studies with FDA-approved tumor-targeting antibodies, including rituximab, trastuzumab and cetuximab, have demonstrated that patients homozygous for the 158V variant, which is present in only about 15% of patients, have improved clinical outcomes. FT516 is being investigated in an open-label, multi-dose Phase 1 clinical trial as a monotherapy for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia and in combination with CD20-directed monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of advanced B-cell lymphoma (NCT04023071). Additionally, the FDA has allowed investigation of FT516 in an open-label, multi-dose Phase 1 clinical trial in combination with monoclonal antibody therapy, including PDL1-, PD1-, EGFR- and HER2-targeting therapeutic antibodies, across a broad range of solid tumors.

About FT596FT596 is an investigational, universal, off-the-shelf natural killer (NK) cell cancer immunotherapy derived from a clonal master induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) line engineered with three anti-tumor functional modalities: a proprietary chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) optimized for NK cell biology, which contains a NKG2D transmembrane domain, a 2B4 co-stimulatory domain and a CD3-zeta signaling domain, that targets B-cell antigen CD19; a novel high-affinity 158V, non-cleavable CD16 (hnCD16) Fc receptor, which has been modified to prevent its down-regulation and to enhance its binding to tumor-targeting antibodies; and an IL-15 receptor fusion (IL-15RF) that promotes enhanced NK cell activity. In preclinical studies of FT596, the Company has demonstrated that dual activation of the CAR19 and hnCD16 targeting receptors, in combination with IL-15RF signaling, convey synergistic anti-tumor activity. Increased degranulation and cytokine release were observed upon dual receptor activation in lymphoma cancer cells as compared to activation of each receptor alone, indicating that multi-antigen engagement may elicit a deeper and more durable response. Additionally, in a humanized mouse model of lymphoma, FT596 in combination with the anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody rituximab showed enhanced killing of tumor cells in vivo as compared to rituximab alone. FT596 is being investigated in an open-label Phase 1 clinical trial as a monotherapy, and in combination with rituximab, for the treatment of advanced B-cell lymphoma and in combination with obinutuzumab for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (NCT04245722).

About Fate Therapeutics, Inc.Fate Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the development of first-in-class cellular immunotherapies for cancer and immune disorders. The Company has established a leadership position in the clinical development and manufacture of universal, off-the-shelf cell products using its proprietary induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) product platform. The Companys immuno-oncology product candidates include natural killer (NK) cell and T-cell cancer immunotherapies, which are designed to synergize with well-established cancer therapies, including immune checkpoint inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies, and to target tumor-associated antigens with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). The Companys immuno-regulatory product candidates include ProTmune, a pharmacologically modulated, donor cell graft that is currently being evaluated in a Phase 2 clinical trial for the prevention of graft-versus-host disease, and a myeloid-derived suppressor cell immunotherapy for promoting immune tolerance in patients with immune disorders. Fate Therapeutics is headquartered in San Diego, CA. For more information, please visit

Forward-Looking Statements

This release contains "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 including statements regarding the Companys results of operations, financial condition and sufficiency of its cash and cash equivalents to fund its operations, as well as statements regarding the advancement of and plans related to its product candidates, clinical studies and preclinical research and development programs, the Companys progress, plans and timelines for the manufacture and clinical investigation of its product candidates, the timing for the Companys receipt of data from its clinical trials and preclinical studies, the Companys development and regulatory strategy, and the therapeutic and market potential of the Companys product candidates. These and any other forward-looking statements in this release are based on management's current expectations of future events and are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially and adversely from those set forth in or implied by such forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the risk that results observed in prior studies of the Companys product candidates, including preclinical studies and clinical trials, will not be observed in ongoing or future studies involving these product candidates, the risk of a delay or difficulties in the manufacturing of the Companys product candidates or in the initiation of, or enrollment of patients in, any clinical studies, the risk that the Company may cease or delay preclinical or clinical development of any of its product candidates for a variety of reasons (including requirements that may be imposed by regulatory authorities on the initiation or conduct of clinical trials or to support regulatory approval, difficulties or delays in patient enrollment in current and planned clinical trials, difficulties in manufacturing or supplying the Companys product candidates for clinical testing, and any adverse events or other negative results that may be observed during preclinical or clinical development), and the risk that the Companys expenditures may exceed current expectations for a variety of reasons. For a discussion of other risks and uncertainties, and other important factors, any of which could cause the Companys actual results to differ from those contained in the forward-looking statements, see the risks and uncertainties detailed in the Companys periodic filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including but not limited to the Companys most recently filed periodic report, and from time to time in the Companys press releases and other investor communications.Fate Therapeutics is providing the information in this release as of this date and does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this release as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

Availability of Other Information about Fate Therapeutics, Inc.

Investors and others should note that the Company routinely communicates with investors and the public using its website ( and its investor relations website ( including, without limitation, through the posting of investor presentations, SEC filings, press releases, public conference calls and webcasts on these websites. The information posted on these websites could be deemed to be material information. As a result, investors, the media, and others interested in Fate Therapeutics are encouraged to review this information on a regular basis. The contents of the Companys website, or any other website that may be accessed from the Companys website, shall not be deemed incorporated by reference in any filing under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended.

Condensed Consolidated Statements of Operations and Comprehensive Loss(in thousands, except share and per share data)(unaudited)

Condensed Consolidated Balance Sheets(in thousands)(unaudited)

Contact:Christina TartagliaStern Investor Relations,

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Lent, the reality of death, and fearing God – Christian Post

By John Stonestreet, Christian Post Guest Columnist | Tuesday, March 03, 2020 A Catholic faithful participates in the traditional Ash Wednesday service at the 20 de Julio Church in Bogota, Colombia, February 10, 2016. Wednesday marked the first day of the 40-day period of Lent during which Roman Catholics are called to make some form of sacrifice, usually by fasting for a short period of time. | (Photo: Reuters/John Vizcaino)

As Western culture becomes more and more secular, or to use Charles Taylors fascinating word disenchanted, traditions and practices once largely normal seem more and more strange. Large families, choosing church over Little League, or smudged foreheads just arent as normal as they used to be, and the second glances or raised eyebrows they create reveal more than a confusion about the thing itself.

In fact, Im not sure there is a Christian observance that more directly collides with the widely accepted values of secularism than the imposition of the ashes, a tradition that goes back about ten centuries and marks the beginning of the season of Lent on the Church calendar.

Like Advent, the season of Lent is about preparation. Before Christmas, our Christian forebears thought it wise to prepare a bit, and that by diving deeply into Old Testament promises and prophecies wed better understand the birth of Christ in the full context of redemptive history. So too, in Lent, our Christian forbears thought it wise to prepare for Holy week, especially for celebrating the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

A key distinction is that Lenten disciplines, beginning with Ash Wednesdays reminder that You are dust and to dust you shall return, place our celebration of resurrection in the context of our humanity, both ourmortalityand ourfallenness. Even if the church calendar and its accompanying disciplines is not part of your church tradition, these two aspects of our humanity deserve our focused, intentional, and extended reflection.

Of course, most Christians would quickly reply that,of course,sin and death affect us all post-Eden. The problem is, in a secular culture, these beliefs that are crucial to a Christian worldview can be subtly secularized in our own hearts and minds.

Years ago, when my grandfather was dying, he suffered terribly for three or four months. In sorrow, I asked my pastor, Why doesnt God just take him? I expected him to say something along the lines of, Well, God has His ways, and His own timing, but instead he said something Ill never forget: Because your grandfather needs to know his mortality before he meets his maker.

What Ponce de Leon once sought in the waters of a Fountain of Youth, we still seek today via genetic engineering, eugenics, and other technologies. In other words, we seek control over this world and even over death itself.

Despite our search, death remains the universal problem of the human condition, one that afflicts us all. A secular culture is led by the reality of death to fear death itself, so that we either attempt to control death or distract ourselves from the thought of it. As a result, we learn to live life in light of the moment, rather than eternity.

The reality of death should, instead, remind us to fear God. That after death, we will meet the maker of life, is worth pondering, not just at the moment of death, but constantly throughout our lives.

Theologian Craig Gay warned in his book The Way of the Modern World that many of us who believe in God live as if God were largely irrelevant to most of life. The reminder of our mortality in the words, You are but dust and to dust you shall return, is a wonderful antidote for what he called practical atheism.

Just like with the idea ofmortality,our understanding of our ownsinfulnessis also under threat of being secularized in our own minds. In a culture committed, in the name of freedom, to removing the categories of sin or guilt, one quick to give away nearly universal get-out-of-jail-free cards in the name of sexual freedom, too many Christians lose any abhorrence for that which ought shock and shame us.

Perhaps this is why the salvation brought by Christs life, death, and resurrection is so often described as a wonderful example of love and sacrifice or how to gain purpose and perspective, but so rarely in the terms of judicial forgiveness and cosmic victory that Paul and Peter and Jesus Himself so often used.

Being confronted with our ownsinfulnessis certainly no fun, but God graciously does it. After all, the cruelest thing to tell someone whos not okay is that they are, as both secularized cultures and secularized churches too often do. Repentance is a gift, the only way forward for those on the edge of the moral abyss. Its proof that God is kind, the Scriptures say.

We just dont hear these things often enough. So, thank God for Lent.

Originally posted at

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