Author Archives: sonia

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.”

Could New Health Technologies Offset America’s Life Expectancy Gap?

Americans are living longer than ever before, but gains in longevity are not distributed evenly throughout the country. The gaps, which in some cases span decades, have the potential to either get better or worse depending upon longevity technology adoption patterns, making this the right time to start thinking about the issue.

[…]

Read more here.

The Longevity Dividend: Why living longer is actually good for economic growth

The United States is a wealthy and successful superpower, so you’d think that when it comes to life expectancy, its citizens would be in the top 10, right? Not even close: the US currently ranks 42 among the world’s countries, a bad sign for long-term economic growth, which is strongly correlated with longevity.

The top spot in longevity rankings goes to Monaco with a life expectancy of 89.57; the bottom country, Chad, has a life expectancy of 49.44 – a striking 40 year difference (the age John Lennon was when he died). The United States, at 79.56, is a full decade behind the top spot when it comes to life expectancy. Why does this matter, other than the fact that death is bad? For one thing, it affects international competitiveness.

[…]

Read more here.

Google’s anti-aging project, Calico, announces $1.5 billion research center

From the Verge:

“The Google-backed life-extension company, Calico, announced today that it was partnering with Chicago-based pharmaceutical giant AbbVie to develop and bring to market new drugs targeting diseases associated with old age. Each partner has committed to providing $250 million in funding with the option to each add another $500 million to the project. The money will be used to create a new research center in San Francisco, where Calico will hire a team of researchers to discover new drugs and guide early development. AbbVie will focus more on the clinical trials, late-stage development, and bringing promising new drugs to market.”

Potential for ‘in body’ muscle regeneration

More great work from Wake Forest:

New research in mice and rats, conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine, suggests that “in body” regeneration of muscle tissue might be possible by harnessing the body’s natural healing powers.

Reporting online ahead of print in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, the research team demonstrated the ability to recruit stem cells that can form muscle tissue to a small piece of biomaterial, or scaffold that had been implanted in the animals’ leg muscle. The secret to success was using proteins involved in cell communication and muscle formation to mobilize the cells.

“Working to leverage the body’s own regenerative properties, we designed a muscle-specific scaffolding system that can actively participate in functional tissue regeneration,” said Sang Jin Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of regenerative medicine and senior author. “This is a proof-of-concept study that we hope can one day be applied to human patients.”

How lizards regenerate their tails: researchers discover genetic ‘recipe’

A team of researchers from Arizona State University have discovered the genetic “recipe” for lizard tail regeneration.

“Using next-generation technologies to sequence all the genes expressed during regeneration, we have unlocked the mystery of what genes are needed to regrow the lizard tail,” said lead author Kenro Kusumi. “By following the genetic recipe for regeneration that is found in lizards, and then harnessing those same genes in human cells, it may be possible to regrow new cartilage, muscle or even spinal cord in the future.”

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

A gut microbe that stops food allergies

“A class of bacteria commonly found in the guts of people—and rodents—appears to keep mice safe from food allergies, a study suggests. The same bacteria are among those reduced by antibiotic use in early childhood.” From Sciencemag.org.

Making Old Bones New Again

“A new study from biomedical engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrates how the compound N-phenacylthiazolium bromide, or PTB, dissolves the sugary impurities within bone tissue that cause our femurs, fibulas, and other bones to become more fragile. Using PTB to reduce bone fragility and boost bone flexibility could lead to new strategies for preventing bone fractures in elderly individuals, as well as accelerated bone healing in patients with diabetes or osteoporosis.”

See more here.

Revolutionary new blood test ‘could detect ALL types of cancer’

From the DailyMail:

“A revolutionary blood test that could detect any type of cancer has been developed by British scientists.
It is hoped the breakthrough will enable doctors to rule out cancer in patients presenting with certain symptoms – saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary invasive procedures and biopsies.
Early results have shown the simple test can diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer with a high degree of accuracy.”

Blood test can predict risk of suicide

Researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore found that variations in a single gene can be used to predict if someone is likely to take their own life. Here’s the story. Interestingly, the same researchers also found a genetic marker for postpartum depression.

Google’s New Moonshot Project: the Human Body

Google has announced a new ‘baseline’ study of the human body. Here’s the story from the WSJ.

“Google has embarked on what may be its most ambitious and difficult science project ever: a quest inside the human body.

Called Baseline Study, the project will collect anonymous genetic and molecular information from 175 people—and later thousands more—to create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be.”

Medical research should focus on Aging: Nature

Here’s a well written article from Nature about how scientists should be focusing on aging in order to

1) treat a number of diseases and
2) extend healthspan for the many people who are in the ‘older’ demographic

Go Nature!

Silicon Valley Moves the Needle on Curing Aging

Here’s a piece I wrote for Slate.

“Silicon Valley, known for entrepreneurs, gadget lovers, and paradigm breakers, has recently turned its attention towards longevity, powering an important cultural change on the topic. The interests of these movers and shakers run the gamut, from using technology to improve our clunky healthcare system to literally solving the problem of aging.”

Read more here.