Category Archives: Biotech

FDA to consider anti-aging drugs

According to Nature, researchers are poised to meet with the FDA this month to discuss “medicines that delay ageing-related disease as legitimate drugs.” This makes sense, given that there are a number of scientific teams working on such compounds. Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York is one of those scientists, and the compond he’s focused on is metformin, which has shown promise in previous studies.

Scientists Regrow an Entire Rat Limb in the Lab

A huge advance. Here’s the story from Discover Mag:

“A team of regenerative scientists and surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital successfully grew a semi-functional rat forelimb in the lab, employing a technique previously used to build bio-artificial organs. If someday perfected, the experimental approach could be used to create human limbs suitable for transplantation.”

Young blood helps repair fractured bones of ageing mice

From the New Scientist:

“Over the past few years, researchers have reversed muscle atrophy, memory loss, heart degradation and some of the effects of cognitive decline by pumping the blood of young mice into old mice. The results from these animal experiments were so intriguing that last year a team at Stanford University began the ultimate rejuvenation trial: giving blood plasma from under 30s to people with Alzheimer’s. Results are expected next year.

Now, Benjamin Alman, a professor of surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, and his colleagues have tested young blood’s ability to heal bones.”

Transforming all donated blood into a universal type


“What do you do when a patient needs a blood transfusion but you don’t have their blood type in the blood bank? It’s a problem that scientists have been trying to solve for years but haven’t been able to find an economic solution – until now.

University of British Columbia chemists and scientists in the Centre for Blood Research have created an enzyme that could potentially solve this problem. The enzyme works by snipping off the sugars, also known as antigens, found in Type A and Type B blood, making it more like Type O. Type O blood is known as the universal donor and can be given to patients of all blood types.”

Read more at:

23andMe Announces Intention to Invent Drugs Using Customer Data

Here’s the story from Forbes.

“The company has hired Richard Scheller, who led drug discovery at biotech icon Genentech for 14 years before announcing he would retire in December, and who has won some of science’s top awards, including the Lasker Prize, often referred to as “America’s Nobel,” and the Kavli Prize.”

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.”

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.”

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

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.”

Science Fiction Becomes Science-Fact: Two Strategies for Repairing Humans

Here’s my first article in a series for Slate magazine on longevity. Thanks to Prudential for sponsoring my obsession with health extension!

“Not long ago, it would have sounded like science fiction to discuss growing human organs in the lab or re-writing DNA. Yet today both are realities that will change the world and allow for longer and healthier lives.

Already, lab-grown bladders, windpipes and blood vessels have been successfully created and implanted into humans. Most recently, tissue engineering pioneer Dr. Anthony Atala and his team at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine announced another breakthrough: lab-made vaginas—one of the most complex organs made to date. In four girls with MRKH syndrome, a medical condition in which the vagina and uterus are underdeveloped or absent, Dr. Atala’s team was able to create new organs that functioned normally, dramatically increasing each patient’s quality of life.


Read more here.

Biologists Create Cells With 6 DNA Letters, Instead of Just 4

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has just announced that it has created cells with an expanded genetic alphabet — an X and a Y added to the regular ACTG of DNA. This is a huge win for the field of synthetic biology. Here’s the Wired story.

“We now have a cell that survives and lives with more information in its genome,” said Floyd Romesberg, the synthetic biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California who led the work.

Having more letters to work with potentially opens the door to a huge range of novel molecules. (A rough analogy: Just think how many crazy new words you could spell with 39 letters instead of the usual 26). With further refinements, synthetic cells might one day be used to create–or evolve–proteins that don’t exist in nature, as well as new sequences of DNA and RNA, any of which could be useful for research, diagnosing disease, or creating new therapies. But that’s still a ways off.”

RMF Conference — photo with Dr. Atala

I was honored to be on a panel tonight with tissue engineering pioneer Dr. Anthony Atala, Patient advocate Katie Jackson, and science artist Kelly Milukas. It was a fun panel and a great discussion about how to get more community members involved in supporting life-saving advances in regenerative medicine. Our audience, mainly scientists, wowed me after the discussion with stories of their world-changing work.