Medicine

First Ever Anti-Aging Gene Discovered In a Secluded Amish Community (newsweek.com) 142

"This is one of the first clear-cut genetic mutations in human beings that acts upon aging and aging-related disease," Dr. Douglas Vaughan, a medical researcher at Northwestern University, told Newsweek. schwit1 quotes Science Alert: As far as we know, it looks like the only community in the world known to harbour it is an Old Order Amish community living in Indiana... Vaughan's team tested 177 people from the Amish community of Berne, Indiana, and found 43 people with one mutated SERPINE1 gene copy. Compared to the general Amish population, these 43 people had a 10 percent longer lifespan, and 10 percent longer telomeres (the DNA-protecting structures at the ends of our chromosomes that unravel when the cells reach the end of their lifespans). They also showed lower incidence of diabetes and lower insulin fasting levels. On top of that, the study showed a small indication of lower blood pressure and potentially more flexible blood vessels.

"For the first time we are seeing a molecular marker of aging (telomere length), a metabolic marker of aging (fasting insulin levels) and a cardiovascular marker of aging (blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness) all tracking in the same direction in that these individuals were generally protected from age-related changes," said Vaughan. These people also had 50 percent lower PAI-1 levels than average. It's not known exactly how PAI-1 contributes to aging, but it does play a role in a process called cellular senescence. This is when cells are no longer able to replicate, so they just go dormant. This contributes to the effects of aging.

Medicine

46% of Americans Now Have High Blood Pressure (nbcnews.com) 276

"Millions more Americans will now be diagnosed with high blood pressure," reports NBC News, which describes the condition as "one of the leading killers around the world." Anyone with blood pressure higher than 130/80 will be considered to have hypertension, or high blood pressure, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology said in releasing their new joint guidelines. "It's very clear that lower is better," said Dr. Paul Whelton of Tulane University, who chaired the committee that wrote the guidelines... 130/80 to 139/89 is now considered Stage 1 hypertension and anything 140/90 or above will be considered stage 2 hypertension...

"Rather than one in three U.S. adults having high blood pressure (32 percent) with the previous definition, the new guidelines will result in nearly half of the U.S. adult population (46 percent) having high blood pressure, or hypertension," the groups said in a joint statement... While people may be confused by the change, the heart experts said three years of reviewing the research showed that many fewer people die if high blood pressure is treated earlier. "We are comfortable with the recommendations. They are based on strong evidence," Whelton said.

Slashdot reader 140Mandak262Jamuna blames the pharmaceutical lobby, arguing that "a few years down the line, we all will be taking blood pressure medications," though Dr. Robert Carey of the University of Virginia, who helped write the guidelines, claims there will only be a 1.9% increase.

The new guidelines recommend that everyone watch their diet and exercise, and that people with stage 1 hypertension should also first try eating less salt, more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains before taking blood pressure medications.
Medicine

Scientists Develop Kill Switches In Case Bioengineered Microbes Go Rogue (upi.com) 65

schwit1 quotes UPI: Scientists at Harvard have developed a pair of new kill switches that can be used to thwart bioengineered microbes that go rogue. Researchers have been testing the use of bioengineered microbes for a variety of purposes, from the diagnosis of disease in the human body to the neutering of mosquitoes. But there remain concerns about releasing manipulated microbes into nature. Could their augmented genes have unintended consequences? Could they morph and proliferate?

Kill-switches ensure the microbes effectively shutdown, or commit suicide, after they've executed their intended function. While kill switches have proven effective in the lab, researchers suggest kill-switch technologies needed to be improved to ensure safety in real-world environs... The researchers detailed their new kill switches in a new paper published this week in the journal Molecular Cell. "This study shows how our teams are leveraging synthetic biology not only to reprogram microbes to create living cellular devices that can carry out useful functions for medicine and environmental remediation, but to do this in a way that is safe for all," said Donald Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute.

Medicine

Study of 500,000 Teens Suggests Association Between Excessive Screen Time and Depression (vice.com) 127

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Depression and suicide rates in teenagers have jumped in the last decade -- doubling between 2007 and 2015 for girls -- and the trend suspiciously coincides with when smartphones became their constant companions. A recent study places their screen time around nine hours per day. Another study, published on Tuesday, suggests that suicide and depression could be connected to the rise of smartphones, and increased screen time. Around 58 percent more girls reported depression symptoms in 2015 than in 2009, and suicide rates rose 65 percent. Smack in the middle of that window of time, smartphones gained market saturation.

In Twenge's new study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers looked at two samples: a nationally representative survey by ongoing study "Monitoring the Future" out of the University of Michigan, which is administered annually to 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a sample of high school students administered by the CDC every other year. (Both surveys began in 1991.) Altogether, over 500,000 young people were included. The study authors examined trends in how teens used social media, the internet, electronic devices (including gaming systems and tablets), and smartphones, as well as how much time they spent doing non-screen activities like homework, playing sports, or socializing. Comparing these to publicly available data on mental health and suicide for these ages between 2010 and 2017 showed "a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels," the researchers wrote in the study. All activities involving screens were associated with higher levels of depression or suicide and suicidal thinking, and activities done away from a screen were not.

Medicine

Researchers Analyze DNA From 'Supercentenarians' Aged 110+ To Discover Secret To Longevity (nytimes.com) 98

biobricks writes: Scientists looking for clues to healthy longevity in people in their 90s and 100s haven't turned up a whole lot. It is thought that the DNA of the very old may be a good place to look, but people over 110 are one in five million in the United States. The New York Times chronicles one scientific quest to collect their DNA (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). From the report: "James Clement, a self-described 'citizen-scientist,' has collected blood, skin and saliva samples from individuals aged 110-plus in 14 states and seven countries during the past six years, The New York Times reports. Mr. Clement has detected 2,500-plus differences between supercentenarian DNA and the general population. However, with a sample size of only some three dozen genomes, his team is still working to determine which genes are significant. One analysis suggested supercentenarians tended to inherit fewer genetic variations related to conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. However, since supercentenarians also tend to be more healthy than the general population, some researchers hypothesize there are other genetic benefits at play. For example, supercentenarians may boast genes that protect them from aspects of aging." Mr. Clement plans to release DNA sequences from the project, called the New England Centenarian Study, this month.
Medicine

US Scientists Try 1st Gene Editing in the Body (apnews.com) 74

Marilynn Marchione, reporting for Associated Press: Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to cure a disease. The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot. "It's kind of humbling" to be the first to test this, said Madeux, who has a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. "I'm willing to take that risk. Hopefully it will help me and other people." Signs of whether it's working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.
Medicine

What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like? (blogspot.com) 196

Benjamin Breen, an assistant professor of history at UC Santa Cruz, looks at art history to figure out what people cooked in the 1600s, and wonders whether it is possible to ascertain the taste of food. From a blog post: What can we learn about how people ate in the seventeenth century? And even if we can piece together historical recipes, can we ever really know what their food tasted like? This might seem like a relatively unimportant question. For one thing, the senses of other people are always going to be, at some level, unknowable, because they are so deeply subjective. Not only can I not know what Velazquez's fried eggs tasted like three hundred years ago, I arguably can't know what my neighbor's taste like. And why does the question matter, anyway? A very clear case can be made for the importance of the history of medicine and disease, or the histories of slavery, global commerce, warfare, and social change. By comparison, the taste of food doesn't seem to have the same stature. Fried eggs don't change the course of history. But taste does change history. Fascinating read.
Medicine

FDA Approves Digital Pill That Tracks If Patients Have Ingested Their Medication (nytimes.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a digital pill -- a medication embedded with a sensor that can tell doctors whether, and when, patients take their medicine. The approval, announced late on Monday, marks a significant advance in the growing field of digital devices designed to monitor medicine-taking and to address the expensive, longstanding problem that millions of patients do not take drugs as prescribed. Experts estimate that so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization. Patients who agree to take the digital medication, a version of the antipsychotic Abilify, can sign consent forms allowing their doctors and up to four other people, including family members, to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested. A smartphone app will let them block recipients anytime they change their mind. Although voluntary, the technology is still likely to prompt questions about privacy and whether patients might feel pressure to take medication in a form their doctors can monitor.
Medicine

Bill Gates Pledges $100 Million To Find an Alzheimer's Cure, His First Commitment To a Non-communicable Disease (reuters.com) 135

At present, there is no treatment to stop the Alzheimer's. Bill Gates wants to make a sizeable attempt to change that. From a report:He is to invest $50 million in the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that brings together industry and government to seek treatments for the brain-wasting disease. The investment -- a personal one and not part of Gates' philanthropic Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- will be followed by another $50 million in start-up ventures working in Alzheimer's research, Gates said. "It's a huge problem, a growing problem, and the scale of the tragedy -- even for the people who stay alive -- is very high," he said. Despite decades of scientific research, there is no treatment that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's. Current drugs can do no more than ease some of the symptoms.
AI

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive (theregister.co.uk) 44

"Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations," reports the Register, in an article shared by schwit1: In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the U.S. from 2003 to 2015. Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined... But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics... The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But instead the paper's author suggest that fully realizing the benefits of AI "will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."
Medicine

Human Mini-Brains Growing Inside Rat Bodies Are Starting To Integrate (inverse.com) 193

At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience starting November 11 in Washington D.C., two teams of scientists plan to present previously unpublished research on the unexpected interaction between human mini-brains and their rat and mouse hosts. "In the new papers, according to STAT, scientists will report that the organoids survived for extended periods of time -- two months in one case -- and even connected to lab animals' circulatory and nervous systems, transferring blood and nerve signals between the host animal and the implanted human cells," reports Inverse. "This is an unprecedented advancement for mini-brain research." From the report: That mini-brains can even be grown in the lab is a huge advancement in the first place, as they have many of the same characteristics as living human brains that are in the early stages of development. Though they're not "alive" in the same sense that you and I are, they grow and are organized into different layers like our brains are. They even react in similar ways to stimuli like psychedelic drugs. Organoids are poised to revolutionize research on the human brain since scientists can perform tests on them that would be unethical to attempt on living humans. STAT also reports that a third lab, in addition to the two presenting at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, has successfully connected human brain organoids to blood vessels. This attempt veered into such challenging ethical territory, though, that the lab reportedly paused its efforts.
Medicine

Scientists Save Child's Life By Growing Him New Skin (scientificamerican.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: The German doctors realized they had to do something drastic or their seven-year-old patient would die. The boy had escaped war-ravaged Syria with his parents, and a rare genetic disease had left him with raw, blistering sores over 80 percent of his body. His doctors in a children's burn unit tried everything they could to treat his illness, called junctional epidermolysis bullosa -- even grafting some skin from his father to see if it would heal the child's wounds. But his body rejected this. Finally, they e-mailed Michele De Luca, a researcher in Italy, to ask for help.

The doctors took a small sample of skin from one of the few places on the boy's body where it was not flaming red or flaking off, and sent it to De Luca. His team at the center used a virus to insert into the skin cells a correct copy of a gene called LAMB3; the boy's own defective copy had caused his epidermolysis bullosa. De Luca and his colleagues grew the skin cells over scaffolds in their lab to form large sheets, the way doctors often do for burn patients. In two surgeries in October and November 2015, the Italian and German teams covered the boy's limbs, sides and back with these sheets of fresh skin. After being too sick even to get out of bed before his surgeries, "he was standing up already by Christmas," De Luca says. In January 2016 the boy, whose name is not being released to protect his privacy, received a few more skin patches -- and in February he was released from the University Hospitals of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

Communications

Sleep Deprivation Disrupts Brain-Cell Communication, Study Finds (npr.org) 87

A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker. "The finding could help explain why a lack of sleep impairs a range of mental functions, says Dr. Itzhak Fried, an author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles," reports NPR. From the report: The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy. As part of the evaluation, doctors place wires in the brain to find out where a patient's seizures are starting. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days. And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation. In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. Each image caused cells in areas of the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity. Then, four of the patients stayed up all night before looking at more images. And in these patients, "the neurons are responding slower," Fried says. "The responses are diminished, and they are smeared over longer periods of time." These changes impair the cells' ability to communicate, Fried says. And that leads to mental lapses that can affect not only perception but memory.
Medicine

Scientists Find a Better Way To Wash Pesticides Off Your Apples (cnet.com) 138

According to a new study, the best way to reduce pesticides from your supermarket apple is to use a baking soda solution. The discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They compared the effectiveness of plain tap water, a commercial bleach solution and a baking soda/water mix in removing pesticides from apples. CNET reports: The scientists started with organic Gala apples and applied the fungicide thiabendazole and the insecticide phosmet before testing the different washing liquids. "The baking soda solution was the most effective at reducing pesticide," a release on the study notes. "After 12 and 15 minutes, 80 percent of the thiabendazole was removed, and 96 percent of the phosmet was removed, respectively." The researchers say the industry-standard approach of washing fruit in a bleach solution for two minutes after harvest is not an effective way to completely remove pesticides. They also found the fungicide thiabendazole penetrated into the apple peel much more than the insecticide. Apple lovers would need to remove the peel to also get rid of the pesticide that wasn't washed off with the baking soda solution. The researchers published the findings this week in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Medicine

Anti-Aging Stem Cell Treatment Proves Successful In Early Human Trials (newatlas.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: The results of two human clinical trials into a stem cell therapy that can reverse symptoms of age-associated frailty have been published, and the indications are that this landmark treatment is both safe and strikingly effective in tackling key factors in aging. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a particular type of adult stem cell generating a great deal of interest in the world of science. This new MSC treatment is targeted at reducing the effects of frailty on senior citizens. This is the first anti-aging stem cell treatment directed specifically at the problem of age-associated frailty to move close to a final FDA approval stage. The treatment derives human mesenchymal stem cells from adult donor bone marrow and in these clinical trials involves a single infusion in patients with an average age of 76. Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 human trials have demonstrated the treatment to have no adverse health effects.

Although the two human trials were ostensibly designed to just demonstrate safety they do offer remarkable results in efficacy as well, paving the way for larger, Phase 3 clinical trials. In the first trial 15 frail patients received a single MSC infusion collected from bone marrow donors aged between 20 and 45 years old. Six months later all patients demonstrated improved fitness outcomes, tumor necrosis factor levels and overall quality of life. The second trial was a randomized, double blind study with placebo group. Again no adverse affects were reported and physical improvements were noted by the researchers as "remarkable." The next stage for the research is to move into an expanded Phase 2b clinical trial involving 120 subjects across 10 locations. After that a final, large randomized Phase 3 clinical trial will be the only thing holding the treatment back from final public approval.
The results of the Phase 1 clinical trial were recently published in The Journals of Gerontology. The results of the Phase 2 clinical trial were recently published in The Journals of Gerontology. Further reading available via University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.
Medicine

High-Nicotine E-Cigarettes May Make Teens Vape More, Study Warns (philly.com) 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Philly.com: Teens who vape e-cigarettes with higher nicotine levels are more likely to start smoking conventional cigarettes soon after, new research shows. E-cigarettes are sold with nicotine levels ranging from zero to more than 25 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter (mg/mL). In this study, a high-nicotine device was defined as having levels at or above 18 mg/mL. Leventhal's team tracked outcomes for 181 grade-10 students from high schools in the Los Angeles area. All of the teens said they had used e-cigarettes within the past month, and they provided data on nicotine levels in the devices they used. Six months later, those who used higher nicotine levels in their e-cigarettes were more likely to report use of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes within the past month. These teens also reported vaping and/or smoking more intensely. While 43 percent of the students who'd used high-nicotine e-cigarettes said they were "frequent smokers" of traditional cigarettes six months later, that was true for only 10 percent of those who'd vaped using lower-nicotine devices, Leventhal's group found. And teens who vaped using high-nicotine e-cigarettes smoked an average of 14 times as many "regular" cigarettes per day six months later compared to those who'd tried nicotine-free versions of the devices, the findings showed. The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Medicine

Doctors To Breathalyse Smokers Before Allowing Them NHS Surgery (bbc.com) 486

Smokers in Hertfordshire, a county in southern England, are to be breathalysed to ensure they have kicked the habit before they are referred for non-urgent surgery. From a report, shared by several readers: Smokers will be breath-tested before they are considered for non-urgent surgery, two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have decided. Patients in Hertfordshire must stop smoking at least eight weeks before surgery or it may be delayed. Obese patients have also been told they must lose weight in order to have non-urgent surgery. The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said the plan seemed to be "against the principles of the NHS (the publicly funded national healthcare system for England)." A joint committee of the Hertfordshire Valleys and the East and North Hertfordshire CCGs, which made the decisions, said they had to "make best use of the money and resources available." Patients with a body mass index (BMI) of over 40 must lose 15% of their weight and those with a BMI of over 30 must lose 10%, or reduce it to under a 40 BMI or a 30 BMI - whichever is the greater amount. The lifestyle changes to reduce weight must take place over nine months.
China

China's Scientists Set New International Record -- For Faked Peer Reviews (nytimes.com) 75

China now has more laboratory scientists than any other country in the world, reports Amy Qin in the New York Times, and spends more on research than the entire European Union. But in its rush to dominance, China has stood out in another, less boastful way. Since 2012, the country has retracted more scientific papers because of faked peer reviews than all other countries and territories put together, according to Retraction Watch, a blog that tracks and seeks to publicize retractions of research papers... In April, a scientific journal retracted 107 biology research papers, the vast majority of them written by Chinese authors, after evidence emerged that they had faked glowing reviews of their articles. Then, this summer, a Chinese gene scientist who had won celebrity status for breakthroughs once trumpeted as Nobel Prize-worthy was forced to retract his research when other scientists failed to replicate his results. At the same time, a government investigation highlighted the existence of a thriving online black market that sells everything from positive peer reviews to entire research articles...

In part, these numbers may simply reflect the enormous scale of the world's most populous nation. But Chinese scientists also blame what they call the skewed incentives they say are embedded within their nation's academic system.

Biotech

Scientists Selectively Trigger Suicide In Cancer Cells (scitechdaily.com) 47

Long-time Slashdot reader Baron_Yam quotes SciTechDaily: A team of researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reveals the first compound that directly makes cancer cells commit suicide while sparing healthy cells. The new treatment approach was directed against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells but may also have potential for attacking other types of cancers.... AML accounts for nearly one-third of all new leukemia cases and kills more than 10,000 Americans each year. The survival rate for patients has remained at about 30 percent for several decades, so better treatments are urgently needed.
The team's computer screened a million compounds to determine the 500 most likely to bind to the "executioner protein" in cells. They then synthesized them all in their lab and evaluated their effectiveness.
Medicine

Magic Mushrooms 'Reboot' Brain In Depressed People, Study Suggests (theguardian.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Magic mushrooms may effectively "reset" the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests. Psychedelics have shown promising results in the treatment of depression and addictions in a number of clinical trials over the last decade. Imperial College London researchers used psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound that occurs naturally in magic mushrooms -- to treat a small number of patients with depression, monitoring their brain function, before and after. Images of patients' brains revealed changes in brain activity that were associated with marked and lasting reductions in depressive symptoms and participants in the trial reported benefits lasting up to five weeks after treatment.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, who led the study, said: "We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments. Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been 'defragged' like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt 'rebooted.' Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick start' they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy." The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

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