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.
The Financial Times recently published a column arguing that “70 is the new 50.” That sounds about right to me at the moment, but it won’t stay that way for long. Longevity and — more importantly — health is about to radically extend. The FT column has a nice profile of a man named Charles Eugster who wishes he could sign up for modern dating services, but is disappointed that their upper age limit is 70. A market opportunity, anyone?
The Financial Times posted an interesting article about Craig Venter and his new longevity company, Human Longevity Inc. When the journalist asks him if his company is in competition with Google’s Calico (also set up to extend human healthspan), Venter says this:
“I turn 68 later this year and if they solve ageing before we do, I will kiss the rings and buy their products.”
Just last month, regenerative medicine scored another solid victory by saving a toddler’s life. Yet, disappointingly, the news came and went without much follow-on thought.
Hannah Warren, a Korean-Canadian girl who is now two years old, was born without a trachea – a condition that would have meant certain death in the past. Fortunately for Hannah, regenerative medicine techniques were able to save her life in a way that will restore health and normalcy to the cute little girl. Doctors built a trachea for Hannah by creating a ‘scaffold’ or windpipe mold out of non-absorbable nanofibers and seeding it with stem cells from her bone marrow. Because the bioengineered organ was made with her own cells, she won’t have to take anti-rejection drugs like regular transplant recipients must do.
“A 2-year-old girl born without a windpipe now has a new one grown from her own stem cells, the youngest patient in the world to benefit from the experimental treatment.” Read more here from AP.
And here’s a quote from Dr. Macchiarini, who did the surgery and is a pioneer in the field:
“The most amazing thing, which for a little girl is a miracle, is that this transplant has not only saved her life, but it will eventually enable her to eat, drink and swallow, even talk, just like any other normal child,” Macchiarini said in a statement. “She will go from being a virtual prisoner in a hospital bed to running around and playing with her sister and enjoying a normal life, which is a beautiful thing.”
Google’s Sergey Brin and wife Anne Wojcicki, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan, and VC Yuri Milner together put forward the funds for the prizes. They are, of course, not the first tech moguls to dedicate serious cash towards this area. Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Microsoft’s Paul Allen, and PayPal’s Peter Thiel have all contributed large amounts to promoting healthy life extension (read about it in chapter 8 of my book, 100 Plus). The Breakthrough Prize is another fantastic example of how tech titans are driving interest in the longevity meme. A big thank you to all of them!
The NYT has a great article today about 61 year old Diana Nyad who is planning on swimming 60 hours straight with no sleep from Cuba to Key West. It’s a trek this record-holder attempted at age 28, but failed. She is trying again 30 plus years later and says she is stronger this time around. Here’s a great quote from the piece:
We have changed a lot. Our parents’ generation, at 60, they considered that old age. I’m in the middle of middle age.
A yet unidentified component of coffee interacts with the beverage’s caffeine, which could be a surprising reason why daily coffee intake protects against Alzheimer’s disease. A new Alzheimer’s mouse study by researchers at the University of South Florida found that this interaction boosts blood levels of a critical growth factor that seems to fight off the Alzheimer’s disease process.
This is a fantastic article. At a time when Congress is debating a bloated $850 billion health care bill, doctors in India have come up with ways to make heart surgery cheaper, with potentially better recovery rates.
According to the piece, like Henry Ford before him, Indian Doctor Devi Shetty has “used high volumes to improve quality” and “some studies show quality rises at hospitals that perform more surgeries for the simple reason that doctors are getting more experience.” Apparently, “in smaller U.S. and Indian hospitals, there aren’t enough patients for one surgeon to focus exclusively on one type of heart procedure.” It’s also notable that “by next year, six million Americans are expected to travel to other countries in search of affordable medical care.”
“A team at the Broad Institute, a Harvard-M.I.T. collaborative for genomics research, has devised a way of screening for drugs that attack cancer stem cells but leave ordinary cells unharmed.
The Broad team, lead by Piyush B. Gupta, screened some 16,000 chemicals, including all known chemotherapeutic agents approved by the F.D.A. The team reports in Thursday’s issue of Cell that 32 of the chemicals selectively targeted cancer stem cells. These particular chemicals may or may not make good drugs, but the screening system proves for the first time, the researchers say, that it is possible to target cancer stem cells with drugs that leave ordinary cells alone. Only one of the 32 chemicals is approved as a drug for cancer.”
Here’s the paper everyone has been buzzing about for the last few days (press release). Monkeys who ate a lower calorie, yet nutritious diet, lived longer than those who ate more. These results were expected, and it will be interesting to see how the monkeys fare over the next decade or so. More news stories about it here (Wired), here (LA Times), and here (NY Times).
There are two stories in the headlines today that both look poised to cut health costs. First, is the announcement of a technique to see if someone has cancer just by testing his or her blood. This new research comes out of Stanford University and was published in the Journal Nature Medicine. If researchers can do a simple blood test as opposed to a tissue biopsy that saves time, resources, and ultimately pain.
The second money-saving tech to make headlines today is a new microchip that can tell doctors if their patients have taken their medicine. This would obviously be very helpful for psychiatric patients who often skip doses and then wind up hospitalized in costly care units. It would also be helpful for elders who have trouble remembering if they took their meds.
Although these research units are the first to announce their projects, I know that similar research developments are going on at other universities as well (UCSF is one). These two money saving techniques will soon be common.
The NYT reports today that “A new DNA test for the virus that causes cervical cancer does so much better than current methods that some gynecologists hope it will eventually replace the Pap smear in wealthy countries and cruder tests in poor ones.” The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. One of the things that’s significantly different in the DNA test vs a traditional pap spear is that the DNA test uses a machine to read the results vs a pap smear relies on a lab technician. That means the DNA test would be both faster and probably more accurate. What a great advance. Cervical cancer used to be a leading cause of death of women as recently as 1950 (before regular pap smears came along) and is still a big killer in less developed countries. Good work, Bill and Melinda.
This is a great article by Joe Nocera of the New York Times on the effectiveness of bringing a business mindset to disease research. He interviews Michael J. Fox and Andy Grove on how the best ways to run a foundation.
A study by Dr. Dean Ornish and his team showed that lifestyle changes including diet, exercise, and stress management techniques made a difference in telomerase levels. “Telomerase repairs and lengthens telomeres, which are DNA-protein complexes at the end of chromosomes that directly affect how quickly cells age. As telomeres become shorter and their structural integrity weakens, cells age and die more quickly.” Read more here and here.