Author Archives: sonia

Craig Venter lecture at the Beckman Symposium

It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Craig Venter at Stanford this week. As you can imagine, he had strong views and a huge amount of energy. I’m super-interested in all of his work, but was surprised to find out about his efforts to fight the spread of influenza using genomics. He convinced me that it is possible to create an annual flu vaccine that actually targets the flu of that year. That would be useful.

Craig Venter and Charles Shultz

TedX Wake Forest Talk

I spent last weekend at Wake Forest University in NC at their annual TedX event. It was a great group of people, and I’m looking forward to posting links to all the talks when they are released.

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Blind Minnesota man gets ‘bionic eye,’ beholds his wife for first time in a decade

A great story. And another example of how man is blending with machine.

From the NY Daily News:

“Zderad became the 15th person in the country, and the first in his home state, to receive the implanted sight device created by Second Sight, Inc., according to the Mayo Clinic.

The tiny implant works by sending light waves to the optic nerve, bypassing the damaged retina. Wires attach to a prosthetic device that looks like sunglasses and renders a certain amount of imagery.”

Brain Organoids

An interesting new way to study diseases of the brain. From MIT Tech Review:

“A new method for growing human brain cells could unlock the mysteries of dementia, mental illness, and other neurological disorders.”

Scientists use stem cells to grow new human hair in the lab

Lots of people I know will be interested in this. Here’s the story from the researchers at Sanford-Burnham.

“We have developed a method using human pluripotent stem cells to create new cells capable of initiating human hair growth. The method is a marked improvement over current methods that rely on transplanting existing hair follicles from one part of the head to another,” said Alexey Terskikh, Ph.D., associate professor in the Development, Aging, and Regeneration Program. “Our stem cell method provides an unlimited source of cells from the patient for transplantation and isn’t limited by the availability of existing hair follicles.”

Trying my hand at a CAR-T simulation

Yesterday, I visited with a bunch of scientists from UCSF’s Lim Lab. They had a cool simulation game to show how CAR-T therapy works. Essentially, you want to make your “T” cell recognize the cancer cell so it will kill it. I did it on the first try — super-fun!
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Scientists have shown that young blood rejuvenates old tissues. Now, come human tests.

From Nature:

“Wyss-Coray formed a start-up company, Alkahest in Menlo Park, California, and in September 2014 it began a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial at Stanford, testing the safety and efficacy of using young plasma to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Six out of a planned 18 people with Alzheimer’s, all aged 50 or above, have already begun to receive plasma harvested from men aged 30 or younger. In addition to monitoring disease symptoms, the researchers are looking for changes in brain scans and blood biomarkers of the disease.”

And from Stanford Medicine:

“Something — or some things — in the blood of young mice has the ability to restore mental capabilities in old mice, a new study by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators has found.

If the same goes for humans, it could spell a new paradigm for recharging our aging brains, and it might mean new therapeutic approaches for treating dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

Doctors, academics debate the possibility, value of a 150-year lifespan

Here are two well-written stories about longevity, the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, and my book, 100 Plus. Journalist Joshua Alvarez did a good job interviewing a diverse set of voices. Here are the two links: one and two.

A few observations:

-Some may be surprised to see that the head of Stanford’s “Center on Longevity” says that “I’m largely on the fence about increasing lifespan. I see a real need for improving the quality of our lives and accommodating the years we’ve been given.” That’s sort of depressing, particularly given that so much of the cool tech that will extend our health is being created right at Stanford.

-I’m happy to have been given credit for writing the book that Dr. Walter Bortz, a physician who advocates for a 100 year lifespan, thought would never be written.

Antibiotic Pulled From Dirt Ends 25-Year Drug Drought

Great news! The story from WSJ and Bloomberg:

“Scientists have discovered an antibiotic capable of fighting infections that kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, a breakthrough that could lead to the field’s first major new drug in more than a quarter-century.”

Can DNA Nanobots Successfully Treat Cancer Patient? First Human Trial Soon

From Singularity Hub:

““No, no it’s not science fiction; it’s already happening,” said Ido Bachelet to a somewhat incredulous audience member at a London event late last year. Bachelet, previously of Harvard’s Wyss Institute and faculty member at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, is a leading figure in the field of DNA nanotechnology.

In a brief talk, Bachelet said DNA nanobots will soon be tried in a critically ill leukemia patient. The patient, who has been given roughly six months to live, will receive an injection of DNA nanobots designed to interact with and destroy leukemia cells—while causing virtually zero collateral damage in healthy tissue.

According to Bachelet, his team have successfully tested their method in cell cultures and animals and written two papers on the subject, one in Science and one in Nature.”

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Could Hold Key to Cure

Some great research coming out of Stanford University. Here’s their press release, and a few news articles.

The upshot is that “Brain cells called microglia chew up toxic substances and cell debris, calm inflammation and make nerve-cell-nurturing substances. New research shows that keeping them on the job may prevent neurodegeneration.”

How Exercise Changes Our DNA

From the NYT:

“We all know that exercise can make us fitter and reduce our risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. But just how, from start to finish, a run or a bike ride might translate into a healthier life has remained baffling.

Now new research reports that the answer may lie, in part, in our DNA. Exercise, a new study finds, changes the shape and functioning of our genes, an important stop on the way to improved health and fitness.”

How old you feel may predict how long you’ll live

From AP:

“How old do you feel? Think carefully – the answer might help predict how much longer you’ll live. That’s according to British research posing that question to about 6,500 adults. Those who felt younger than their real age lived the longest over the following eight years.”

Congratulations to all the Breakthrough Prize winners

Here’s a list of the winners in Life Sciences. For more, see the press release.

“The 2015 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences honors transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life, with one prize dedicated to work that contributes to the understanding of Parkinson’s disease.
Alim Louis Benabid, Joseph Fourier University, for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
C. David Allis, The Rockefeller University, for the discovery of covalent modifications of histone proteins and their critical roles in the regulation of gene expression and chromatin organization, advancing the understanding of diseases ranging from birth defects to cancer.
Victor Ambros, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Gary Ruvkun, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, for the discovery of a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets. Each received a $3 million award.
Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umeå University, for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine. Each received a $3 million award.”

Researchers Grow Blood Vessel in a Week

News from Sahlgrenska Univ. Hospital in Sweden:

“Two tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown in a new study from Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska Univ. Hospital published in EBioMedicine.”

[…]

“We believe that this technological progress can lead to dissemination of the method for the benefit of additional groups of patients, such as those with varicose veins or myocardial infarction, who need new blood vessels,” Holgersson says. “Our dream is to be able to grow complete organs as a way of overcoming the current shortage from donors.”

Cure for Type 1 diabetes imminent after Harvard stem-cell breakthrough?

This is big news if it works in humans. From the Telegraph:

“A cure for diabetes could be imminent after scientists discovered how to make huge quantities of insulin-producing cells, in a breakthrough hailed as significant as antibiotics. Harvard University has, for the first time, managed to manufacture the millions of beta cells required for transplantation. It could mean the end of daily insulin injections for the 400,000 people in Britain living with Type 1 diabetes. And it marks the culmination of 23-years of research for Harvard professor Doug Melton who has been trying to find a cure for the disease since his son Sam was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a baby.”

[…]

This Device Could Detect Dozens of Cancers With a Single Blood Test

It’s still a long way away, but this is a great idea (and from Singularity University).

From Wired:
“A new startup, dubbed Miroculus, is building a device that could easily and affordably check for dozens of cancers using a single blood sample. Known as Miriam, this low-cost, open source device made its public debut at the TEDGlobal conference in Rio De Janeiro on Thursday, with TED curator Chris Anderson calling it “one of the most thrilling demos in TED history.”