Author Archives: sonia

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.”

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.