Health

Newly-discovered protein keeps your biological clock running

Scientists have discovered a new protein that regulates cellular agingScientists have discovered a new protein that regulates cellular aging(Credit: AnatomyInsider/Depositphotos)

 

 

We’re all familiar with the inescapable effects that the march of time has on our bodies, but the processes that drive aging are still offering up surprises. Scientists have long known that DNA segments called telomeres play a crucial part in our aging process, but new research has discovered a protein that acts as a kind of cellular timekeeper, regulating the length of telomeres to maintain healthy cell division and prevent the development of cancer.

Each time a cell divides, a tiny section of DNA is lost, and while this could be devastating to the cell, our bodies have a natural defense against the loss of any important genetic information. Telomeres are little caps made of repetitive sections of DNA at the end of each chromosome, and whenever a cell divides they take the hit. The problem is, telomeres have a set length, and as they degrade over time that buffer zone eventually stops protecting the important bits of information, leading to the well-known bodily wear-and-tear we associate with aging.

“Telomeres represent the clock of a cell,” says Eros Lazzerini Denchi, corresponding author of the study. “You are born with telomeres of a certain length, and every time a cell divides, it loses a little bit of the telomere. Once the telomere is too short, the cell cannot divide anymore.”

 

Telomeres are short, repeating sections of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, which help protect important...

 

Logically then, longer telomeres should lead to longer lives, right? Technically yes, and that’s an area that scientists have been experimenting with for years. Back in 2010, a Harvard study was able to slow and even reverse the aging process in mice by manipulating telomerase, an enzyme that helps replenish telomeres. Breakthroughs on the road to applying the process to human cells followed, with the discovery that telomerase can function like an “off” switch, and a new procedure to extend the life of lab-grown cells.

But it’s not as simple as just lengthening telomeres and enjoying a similarly-lengthened life. If cells are allowed to divide unchecked, that same freedom also applies to cancerous cells, increasing the risk of tumors developing.

“This cellular clock needs to be finely tuned to allow sufficient cell divisions to develop differentiated tissues and maintain renewable tissues in our body and, at the same time, to limit the proliferation of cancerous cells,” says Lazzerini Denchi.

 

 

Associate Professor Eros Lazzerini Denchi (left) and Gracrditduate Student Julia Su Zhou Li led the study...Associate Professor Eros Lazzerini Denchi (left) and Gracrditduate Student Julia Su Zhou Li led the study at The Scripps Research Institute (Credit: Madeline McCurry-Schmidt)

 

Until recently, scientists thought they knew of all proteins that bind to telomeres: namely telomerase and Shelterin, a protein complex that helps protect telomeres and regulate telomerase. But now scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have discovered a new protein, called TZAP.

TZAP’s role is to control a process called telomere trimming, which keeps the telomeres within that sweet spot of proliferation: long enough to be healthy, but below the risky upper limit. While the discovery may not have a direct application to increasing overall human lifespan yet, improving our understanding of these crucial processes can help pave the way for these kinds of advances in future.

“This study opens up a lot of new and exciting questions,” says Lazzerini Denchi.

The research was published in the journal, Science.

Source: The Scripps Research Institute

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Stem Cells Are Poised to Change Health and Medicine Forever


Image: Shutterstock.

 

We are at the cusp of a stem cell revolution.

 

Understanding and harnessing these unique cells may unlock breakthroughs in longevity and therapeutic solutions to all kinds of chronic diseases and regenerative opportunities.

Last month, I took a trip down to the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City with Dr. Bob Hariri (co-Founder of Human Longevity Inc.) to get stem cell injections in my knee and shoulder as an alternative to reconstructive surgery.

Aside from the injections, I had a chance to interview the directors of the institute, Dr. Jorge Paz Rodriguez and Dr. Neil Riordan, as well as Dr. Bob Hariri, to discuss the future of stem cell therapy.

In this post we will discuss:

  1. What are stem cells?
  2. Future of stem cell therapeutics
  3. Recent success stories with stem cells

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can transform into specialized cells such as heart, neurons, liver, lung, skin and so on and can also divide to produce more stem cells.

In a child or young adult, these stem cells are in large supply, acting as a built-in repair system.

They are often summoned to the site of damage or inflammation to repair and restore normal function.

But as we age, our supply of stem cells begins to diminish as much as 100- to 10,000-fold in different tissues and organs.

In addition, stem cells undergo genetic mutations, which reduce their quality and effectiveness at renovating and repairing your body.

A useful analogy is to imagine your stem cells as a team of repairmen in your newly constructed mansion.

When the mansion is new and the repairmen are young, they can fix everything perfectly. But as the repairman age and reduce in number, your mansion eventually goes into disrepair and eventually crumbles.

But what if you could restore and rejuvenate your stem cell population?

One option is to extract and concentrate your own autologous adult stem cells from places like your adipose (or fat) tissue. But these stem cells are fewer in number and have undergone mutations from their original ‘software code.’

Many scientists and physicians now prefer an alternative source, obtaining stem cells from the placenta or umbilical cord, the leftovers of birth.

These stem cells, available in large supply and expressing the undamaged software of a newborn, can be injected into joints or administered intravenously to rejuvenate and revitalize.

One can think of these stem cells as chemical factories generating vital growth factors that can help to reduce inflammation, fight autoimmune disease, increase muscle mass, repair joints, and even revitalize skin and grow hair.

Future of Stem Cell Therapeutics

Over the last decade, the number of publications per year on stem cell-related research has increased 40x. The stem cell market is expected to reach $170 billion by 2020.

Rising R&D initiatives to develop therapeutic options for chronic diseases and growing demand for a regenerative treatment option are the most significant drivers of this budding industry.

Here are the top four areas in the space to watch:

1. Tissue engineering: Tissue engineering using the body’s own stem cells to repair, replace or augment diseased tissue is a rapidly evolving field. Patients with a variety of diseases may be treated with transplanted tissues and organs. However, we face a shortage of donor tissues and organs, which is worsening yearly because of the aging population. Scientists in the field of tissue engineering are applying the principles of cell transplantation, material science, and bioengineering to construct biological substitutes that will restore and maintain normal function in diseased and injured tissues. The stem cell field is also advancing rapidly, opening new options for cellular therapy and tissue engineering. Use of postnatal stem cells has the potential to significantly alter the perspective of tissue engineering.

2. Stem cell banking: “At your moment of birth, you are probably at the point of biological perfection,” says Dr. Bob Hariri. “Your system hasn’t been exposed to all of those injurious stimuli, like electromagnetic radiation, chemicals, etc., and your biological software is uncorrupted.” Stem cell banking allows us to capture stem cells with your original, uncorrupted DNA at birth, replicate them into a large number of future dosages and then freeze those doses. Hariri discovered that in addition to cord blood (the blood found in the umbilical cord of a newborn), the placenta of a newborn is an organ very rich in stem cells. Rather than discard the leftovers of birth, placentas, if saved, may hold the key to a longer and healthier life. Hariri created a business called LifebankUSA, which provides private cell banking (FYI, this is where we banked our children’s stem cells). Lifebank isolates, processes and cryopreserves cells (putting them into a deep freeze, about minus 180 degrees Celsius), keeping them in suspended animation at the most pristine state of their existence.

3. Clinical applications of MSCs: Mesenchymal stem cells, the major stem cells for cell therapy, have been used in the clinic for approximately 10 years. Currently, 344 registered clinical trials in different clinical trial phases are aimed at evaluating the potential of MSC-based cell therapy worldwide. From animal models to clinical trials, MSCs have afforded promise in the treatment of numerous diseases. The ability of MSCs to differentiate into osteoblasts, tenocytes and chondrocytes has attracted interest for their use in orthopedic settings. First, MSCs have been shown to be beneficial in treating bone disorders, such as osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) and hypophosphatasia. Other promising therapeutic avenues for MSCs include the treatment of autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancer.

4. Parabiosis: A San Francisco-based startup called Ambrosia recently commenced one of the trials on parabiosis. Their protocol is simple: Healthy participants aged 35 and older get a transfusion of blood plasma from donors under 25, and researchers monitor their blood over the next two years for molecular indicators of health and aging. The study is patient-funded; participants, who range in age from late 30s through 80s, must pay $8,000 to take part, and live in or travel to Monterey for treatments and follow-up assessments. Ambrosia’s founder Jesse Karmazin became interested in launching a company around parabiosis after seeing impressive data from animals and studies conducted abroad in humans: In one trial after another, subjects experience a reversal of aging symptoms across every major organ system. “The effects seem to be almost permanent,” he says. “It’s almost like there’s a resetting of gene expression.” This company has recently received funding from Peter Thiel. Infusing your own cord blood stem cells as you age may have tremendous longevity benefits.

Recent Stem Cell Success Stories

Below are my top three stories demonstrating the incredible research and implications for stem cells over the past 12 months:

a) Stem Cells Able to Grow New Human Eyes: Biologists led by Kohji Nishida at Osaka University in Japan have discovered a new way to nurture and grow the tissues that make up the human eyeball. The scientists are able to grow retinas, corneas, the eye’s lens, and more using only a small sample of adult skin.

b) Stem Cell Injections Help Stroke Victims Walk Again: In a study out of Stanford, of 18 stroke victims who agreed to stem cells treatments, seven of them showed remarkable motor function improvements. This treatment could work for other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

c) Stem Cells Help Paralyzed Victim Gain Use of Arms: Doctors from the USC Neurorestoration Center and Keck Medicine of USC injected stem cells into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man. Three months later, he showed dramatic improvement in sensation and movement of both arms.

In Conclusion

As humans, we’ve just come to accept the notion that we are going to die.

However, the keys to our longevity and health may lie in our source code.

In the next two decades, stem cells are going to change medicine forever, extend life, and potentially save your life.

We truly live during the most exciting time ever in human history.

[SingularityHub]

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
A Woman in Nevada Died from an Unstoppable Superbug

 

Her death is a reminder that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are getting worse, even as they garner little attention.

 

A strain of bacteria resistant to 26 different antibiotics killed a woman in Nevada, a stark warning that humanity continues to lose ground in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

The woman, who was in her 70s and appears to have acquired the infection in India after she broke her leg, died in September, but a report on her case was just published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.India is known to have more antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment than the U.S., in part because poor sanitation and water quality leads people to take hundreds of millions of courses of antibiotics each year for diarrhea. This gives the bugs ample opportunity to develop defenses against the drugs.

But the threat is global. A report issued last year by the U.K. government argued that if measures aren’t taken to stem the rising tide of antibiotic resistance, 10 million people a year could be dying from superbugs by 2050—more than currently die from cancer.

Many doctors say the crisis is already under way. The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, has called the broad class of superbugs known as CRE (for carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae) “nightmare bacteria.” The bacteria that killed the woman in Nevada was a kind of CRE known as Klebsiella pneumoniae.

STAT spoke with James Johnson, a doctor at the University of Minnesota who studies infectious disease. He offered an even more dire appraisal of the situation. “People have asked me many times, How scared should we be? … How close are we to the edge of the cliff? And I tell them: We’re already falling off the cliff,” he said.

One of the main reasons for this is that developing new antibiotics is not a good way for drug companies to make money. The U.K. government’s report addressed that issue, suggesting that it would be well worth it to spend public funds on paying firms to come up with new compounds to fight superbugs—but the plan has yet to be implemented.

January 15, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
3 key tech developments for your smart home from CES

 

While this year’s CES hasn’t necessarily born any great surprises in debuting home tech, it has revealed that smart home tech is becoming the norm rather than niche as more big brands reveal their connected home products to the masses. Last year we saw a lot of the first wave of smart home devices with a particular focus on the basics like smart lighting and home security. Now everyday home products are rising to the challenge. Here’s what has our attention:

1. Voice control and connectivity are key

powerbot-vr7000_main_1

 

A new survey from Coldwell Banker Real Estate and Vivint Smart Homes found that smart home device owners overwhelmingly want voice control, particularly to operate entertainment devices. Since the huge popularity of Amazon’s Alexa, not to mention the increased functionality of Siri and the recent addition of Google Home, voice-controlled assistants are becoming an integral part of the connected home.

You can operate Samsung’s  VR7000 robot vacuum cleaner through voice controls and open and close simplehuman‘s voice activated garbage can with “Open can” or “Open sesame”. This extends to increased product capabilities. For example, the VR7000 has the ability to map out rooms and optimize its cleaning depending on floor type, whilst the simplehuman garbage can will be able to keep stock of your garbage bags and upon depletion automatically order more through Amazon’s Dash Replacement service.

The year at CES, Whirlpool announced the launch of 21 Alexa enabled devices in both the kitchen and laundry. For example, Whirlpool Scan-to-Cook technology sends cooking instructions and settings straight from a frozen food packages’ UPC barcode to the brand’s microwave, wall oven or range via the Whirlpool mobile app.

GE also announced a partnership with Nest enabling its’ smoke detector to turn off connected ovens if you burn dinner or notify you if an appliance remains on in your absence. GE is also pairing with the Drop Connected Kitchen Scale which will be able to communicate with smart GE ovens and tell them to preheat to the proper temperature at the appropriate time. Consumers have been asking for this kind of interoperability and it looks like it’s finally emerging.

2. Fridges are more than just cold storage

ent_music

 

Samsung has released a new collection of smart fridges, expanding to 10 models under the name Family Hub 2.0 with a number of updates since it’s original predecessor in 2016. Unsurprisingly, the fridge can now also be controlled via voice commands and it can provide recipe suggestions based on the contents of your fridge and allow you to order food as images of the items you need can be added to the shopping list feature and ordered directly via the Groceries by MasterCard app.  Each family member can create a profile enabling individual calendars and lists as well as connected internet radio. That said, I’m still unconvinced of the value of a $6000 fridge in the home of most people, especially when we are either wearing or in close proximity to a suite of other connected devices already and I still prefer Smarter’s FridgeCam at a mere $149.

 

3. Devices are engaging with utilities

hydrao

 

On first consideration, a smart shower head may seem like a rather surplus device. But if you’re in a period of drought, dealing with a roommate who takes hour long showers or wanting to save money on home utilities it’s are a practical addition to the home. Made by a French start-up, the Hydrao First lights up the water spray with different colors depending on the amount of water used. Powered by the shower’s natural water-flow, no external power supply is needed. It therefore, allows you to instantly control your water consumption and the energy needed to heat it. You can even track how much water you’ve used and how much money you’ve saved on your water and energy bills through a corresponding app or by (of course) asking Alexa.

In a similar vein, the Moen U smart shower includes a wall outlet and smartphone app that can change water temperature before use, set timers and automatically turn your shower on off after a specified time.

There’s also the Haiku L Series Fan that senses when you’re in the room, automatically changing to the preferred temperature. It syncs with Nest’s  Learning Thermostat and can provide insight into your usage, contributing to energy bill savings.

Home consumers are now focusing more attention on everyday living home products. They want a seamless user experience where products communicate with each other and information flows in ways that make life easier. The present price points make many smart home appliances prohibitive to all but in time they will drop in price and become more prevalent.

The challenges for the foreseeable future will be:  the problem of early adopters who make their allegiance too early (for example to Nest or Alexa) but may later wish to switch platforms; whether products over the next few years will have value over a sustained period of time as technology becomes more advanced and of course the ever present, challenges of cyber security. Perhaps next year’s CES will offer more insights.

[Source: Readwrite]

January 11, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , ,
Vocal Biomarkers: New Opportunities in Prevention

 

The line has a long tradition in literature and cinematography. Its earliest presence might be in the Tales of One Thousand and One Nights by storyteller Scheherezade. In one of her stories her voice reveals a princess dressed in male cloths to a dervish; and he uses this exact line to tell her, he knows he is in fact female.

It has been commonplace since ancient times to spot liars based on their voices. Secret services such as the FBI currently also uses speech patterns in determining the truth value of statements. In an interview with CNBC, former FBI negotiator, Chris Voss said, “only 7 per cent of a message is based on the words, while 38 per cent comes from the tone of voice and 55 per cent from the speaker’s body language and face”. In the television series Lie to Me! the main character played by Tim Roth solved countless crimes based on body language as well as through recognizing lies from the intonation and cadence of the bad guys.

 

Your Voice Reveals You - Vocal Biomarkers

 

According to the latest scientific studies, it is definitely not negative, if your voice betrays you. On the contrary! The characteristics of your voice – or as medicine labels them, vocal biomarkers – reveals a lot about your health; and help in detecting serious diseases and health risks.

The term “biomarker”, the shortened version of “biological marker” refers to medical signs, which indicate the medical state observed from outside the patient. So while patients sense symptoms, medical professionals measure biomarkers. Currently, they take into account all kinds of objective, quantifiable biomarkers ranging from biochemical, radiology markers to various health parameters. And as you could have guessed already, vocal biomarkers are medical signs deducted from the features of your voice.

 

Sound of Your Voice Helps Detect Diseases - Vocal BiomarkersVocal biomarkers have an amazing potential in reforming diagnostics through their accuracy, speed and cost-effectiveness.

 

They are able to detect some diseases earlier than an average check-up process; and an earlier diagnosis could essentially be the difference between life and death in relation to certain illnesses. It is an amazing area of medicine, and the field is buzzing. More and more start-ups are eager to join in: Beyond Verbal, Sonde Health or the Berlin-based Audio Profiling. The tech giant, IBM is teaming its Watson AI supercomputer with academic researchers to try to predict from speech patterns whether patients are likely to develop a psychotic disorder. Even the US Army got interested! In May, 2016 it launched a partnership with MIT researchers with the goal of developing an FDA-approved device to detect brain injury. But that’s not all!

 

Let me show you the potential areas where diagnosticians could use vocal biomarkers successfully!

 

Voice Analysis - Vocal Biomarkers

 

An Israeli company, Beyond Verbal deals with emotion analytics and provides voice analysis software. It has announced that its algorithms were successful in helping to detect the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD) in a group of patients.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in New Orleans, Louisiana in December 2016; carried out in cooperation with Mayo Clinic. It involved a double-blind study with 120 patients undergoing both an angiography and a voice analysis; and a group of controls. Beyond Verbal used a smartphone app to measure their voice signal prior to a coronary angiograph. One voice characteristic in particular indicated an almost 20-fold increase in the likelihood of CAD. Yuval Mor, CEO of Beyond Verbal said that these vocal features are not audible by the human ear alone.

Now, imagine all the implications of the research! Imagine how easy it would be if medical professionals could identify patients with CAD over a phone call! There would be no need to go to the doctors’ office, wait for hours for costly examinations and days for the results.

 

CAD identification over phone call - Vocal Biomarkers

 

Sonde Health Inc., a Boston-based company develops a voice-based technology platform for monitoring and diagnosing mental and physical medical conditions, with the help of a technology licensed from the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Researchers designed the technology to enable analysis of brief voice samples to screen and monitor for a range of mental and physical medical concerns based on subtle changes in acoustic characteristics of the speaker’s voice.

“The ability to help recognize early signs of psychiatric illness and monitor treatment responses on devices that people already own is an important step in moving from reactive to preventive care,” said Aimee Danielson, Ph.D., Director, Women’s Mental Health Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “This would be particularly useful in conditions that are chronically underdiagnosed, like perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression.”

Another Boston-based company, Cogito, is developing a voice analysis app. The US Department of Veterans Affairs started to use it already to monitor the mood of service members. Its testing also started on patients with bipolar disorder and depression. It is amazing how they are able to detect depression in individuals based on a brief sample of spoken words! I hope the technology will be widely available soon.

 

Vocal Biomarkers

 

It is time-consuming, difficult and expensive to carry out standard medical tests for Parkinson’s disease. Scientists found though that the chronic illness affects limb movements as much as voice – and some of them started to develop a technology for easier diagnosing the illness. Through voice.

For proving the efficiency of the new diagnostic tool, a couple of researchers started the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative. It aims to record 10,000 voices across the world – to collect enough recordings to introduce the jaw-dropping technology on a wider scale.

This could enable some radical breakthroughs, because voice-based tests are as accurate as clinical tests, but additionally, medical professionals could administer them remotely, and patients can do the tests themselves. Also, they are high speed (take less than 30 seconds), and are ultra low cost. So, they are massively scalable. Amazing, isn’t it? Would you like to facilitate the great cause? You’ve got the chance to participate in their smartphone data-gathering or PVA Voice test, so do it!

 

Diagnosing Parkinson's Disease - Vocal Biomarkers

 

In 2016, Beyond Verbal announced the launch of Beyond mHealth Research Platform. It aims to collaborate with research institutes, hospitals, businesses, and universities to collectively search for unique markers in voice samples.

This is a fantastic idea since more data could lead to more accurate results and better solutions for patients. One of them might be the use of AI algorithms for analyzing billions of voice samples and suggesting a potential diagnosis. Beyond Verbal, which has gathered more than 2.5 million voice samples in 40 languages, wants to build such an algorithm with a virtual assistance. Thus, it encourages other institutions, researchers and others interested in collecting voice data through smart cars, the Internet of Things devices in smart homes or personal assistants like Siri and Alexa. It is a wonderful idea and I hope they will succeed!

 

Beyond Verbal - Vocal Biomarkers

 

It’s obvious that we need more research in the field of vocal biomarkers. We also need not to forget the ethical issues concerning the voice recordings. Although algorithms analyzing samples may not be interested in the content of the speech; nevertheless listening to someone talking to someone else over the phone and analyzing the vocal biomarkers in it, could constitute a serious breach of privacy. What should we do about that?

Well, regulators need to keep up with the development of the field of vocal biomarkers, and consider privacy issues before the sea of vocal analytics apps reach the market. [The Medical Futurist]

January 11, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
The 10 Best Health Technology Innovations at CES 2017

For geeks and gadget-lovers the year does not usually start with the 1st January, but a couple of days later, when CES opens in Las Vegas. It is even more exciting this year, since the exhibition celebrates its 50th anniversary – so it is obviously bigger and better than ever before.

It’s almost impossible to collect and analyse every novelty appearing at the fair, and I’m certainly more interested in the coolest health sensors and trackers than the announcement of T-Mobile making customer bills much simpler (although that’s relevant, too), but there are some palpable trends. Here are the two most important.

 

CES 2017

 

  • Tech companies and start-ups jumped eagerly on the ‘smart’-train, so your phone’s sensor might actually tell you which strawberry is sweeter or what is hiding in your fridge, but I do not think that creating smart apps, gadgets or technology for the sake of data is enough. I believe that instead of the tech version of l’art pour l’art, companies and start-ups should rather strengthen behavioral change. So smart objects and apps do not only gather information about the users or the environment for the sake of data, but in order to (ultimately) achieve a better life.
  • Looking through the latest technologies presented at CES – I have to emphasize that not every product was introduced at the tech gathering, but they certainly get here the most attention -, I believe real innovation is missing. According to the most trending chart created by CES, one of the most used buzzword (next to spidermanhomecoming) was “upgrade”. It is obvious, isn’t it? Instead of impacting, long-lasting, real innovation, tech companies are mostly upgrading their already existing products. Which is also quite exciting and requires a lot of work, it just indicates more of a gradual than a disruptive process.

However, no matter how the big picture looks like, there are still truly inspiring and forward-looking innovations out there with great potential for medicine and healthcare.

 

Health Technology at CES 2017

 

No, apnoea is not an exotic snake type. It is actually a very dangerous health condition. It means that breathing stops periodically during sleeping. Apnoea might generate hypertension, heart disease, brain attacks, diabetes or somnolence. Neogia offers a smart solution for recognizing the problem and normalizing sleep. Its wearable, MOTIO HW detects sleep apnoea and improves sleeping quality via a personalized artificial intelligence that learns about the user.

 

Neogia - CES 2017

 

If you have a small child, you know how difficult it is to measure the sweet little baby’s temperature. There are always some movements, plush animals or bodily fluids involved. Now, the struggle is over. TempTraq offers a patch-like smart device, which monitors body temperature 24/7. It continuously senses, records, and sends temperature data to mobile devices so caregivers can keep track without unnecessarily disturbing the child. It is amazing due to its double effect: it will calm the mom down, while letting the baby sleep.

 

TempTraq - CES 2017

 

QardioCore promises a discreet as well as easily usable hearth monitor without patches and wires. The FDA-approved, medical-grade wearable uses sensors to record clinically accurate continuous ECG, heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, skin temperature, and activity data, which can be shared with medical professionals or synced to the free Qardio app or Apple’s Health app on iPhone or iPad. It was first introduced at CES 2015, and the first batch of these smart and tiny chest straps will be shipped to their lucky users as early as April 2017.

 

QardioCore - CES 2017

 

What if reaching 10 thousand steps a day is actually great for your annoying co-worker, Nathan, but bad for your health? Every single person has a different body in need of a personalized fitness plan and health solution. And Mio Slice wants to take that into account. At first sight, it looks and acts like a fitness tracker. It measures steps, calories burned, distance, all day heart rate and sleep. However, it adds to it its very own Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI) index. PAI provides you with a personalised target score which reflects your body’s response to physical activity based on heart rate. It can reform the market of fitness trackers!

 

 

If you’ve ever been to any of the invisible exhibition series, you already got a limited impression how difficult it is to navigate through the world if you cannot see your surroundings. Aira is eager to help everyone who has problems with vision. Using a pair of smart glasses or a phone camera, the system allows an Aira “agent” to see what the blind person sees in real-time, and then talk them through whatever situation they’re in. It would be a bit easier crossing a busy street, shopping for dinner or finding the light switch. You could even help the company by becoming their agent! Stunning technology!

 

AIRA Glasses - CES 2017

 

Expecting a baby comes with a lot of worries and stress. Is the little one healthy? Safe? Am I doing okay? Is my wife or girlfriend doing okay? Bloomlife wants to help every concerned parent-to-be out there. They developed a “pregnancy wearable”, a patch with a small device that sticks to the baby bump and measures contractions by reading the electrical activity of uterine muscle. It sends the information to your smart phone and lets you read and interpret the data. This way, you can make a difference between false alarms such as Braxton Hicks contractions and the real thing. Also, one of the most awesome idea of the start-up is that you do not need to buy the wearable. Since it is useful for you only for a limited time, the company is leasing the product instead of selling it. Great marketing, guys!

 

Bloomlife - CES 2017

 

Okay, if you dread to think of panpipe music, this app will not work for you, but in most cases 2breathe’s sleep inducer has a pretty good success rate. It combines a Bluetooth sensor, a smartphone app and some soothing panpipe melodies. The wearable around your waist analyses your breathing patterns, and then your phone gives out guidance in the form of smooth, lilting melodic tones to prolong exhalation and reduce brain activity, thus making you sleepy. It’s pretty easy. And believe me, you do not have to count sheep anymore before falling into a sweet dream.

 

2breathe - CES 2017

 

Do you find fitness trackers and wearables too big, too visible, too uncomfortable and never matching your outfit? For a long time, companies and start-ups are experimenting with the idea of stuffing all their features into a tiny ring. Now, I believe Motiv succeeded. Its ring acts like a fitness tracker – with step counter, heart rate monitor or sleep tracker. It also withstands the elements – so you can wear it during swimming as well as on the North Pole. The ring is elegant, stylish and tasteful.

 

MOTIV fitness ring - CES 2017

 

Your facial skin is one of the best indicator of your health due to its sensitivity. It responds to your mood, stress level and changes in the environment. Thus, it needs your peculiar attention. S-Skin wants to help you achieving it. It is made up of a microneedle patch and a portable device that can help analyse your skin, give you solutions and even suggest products that you’ll be able to use. Through the LED light, it can measure your skin’s dryness, hydration, redness, or melanin and then save the information on the app so you can track its changes.

Bodytrak is a unique wearable and vital signs meter. It measures biometric information from your ear. It is not well-known that the ear is actually a great spot for measurement, but I believe when the hype around the wrist will calm down, start-ups and tech companies will find the ear irresistible for their innovations. Although by that time, Bodytrak will be way before them. Its device measures body temperature, heart rate, VO2, speed, distance and cadence – continuously – and all in real-time. Moreover, since it fits nicely into your ear, you can listen to music and make telephone calls as well. What a win-win situation!

 

Bodytrak - CES 2017

 

So, these were this year’s hits. And what about the flops?…

Don’t be surprised if you see bearded hipsters in bird-shirts with Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes brushing their hair elegantly at the metro station. The smart hairbrush is here eagerly claiming its place in the universe of smart devices. L’Oreal teamed up with Withings to create the dream of bored princesses: the smart hairbrush. It is able to tell you whether you are brushing your hair too hard causing irreparable hair damage. Wow! What an indispensable piece of information! Sounds the Kérastase Hair Coach will rock your world…

 

Smart Hairbrush - CES 2017

 

Wait, what? Yes, you read it correctly. ReNu apparently offers a stress management kit with all kinds of stuff in it. At first, you are supposed to use some sort of supplements in the form of a cream or chewable nutrients (???) that the company says are “all-natural amino acids”. Then you need to take on the headset and place a couple of small patches behind your ears. These patches are apparently going to absorb the nutrients then. The stimulation is said to prepare the brain for the company’s proprietary software, which is delivered in the form of binaural audio. Which sends calming vibes to your brain.

 

ReNU Stress Management - CES 2017

 

Umm, okay. Well, I’m not sure about you, but having read only the instruction and not even thinking about the scientific implications here makes me already pretty tense, just as assembling an IKEA furniture. Let’s just say diplomatically that I would give it a pass… [The Medical Futurist]

 

January 11, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Heart attacks are more common in January – here’s why

Nelson Chong, University of Westminster

 

Cardiovascular deaths around the world, such as heart attacks and strokes, peak in January. Why this is the case has baffled scientists for some time, but new evidence is starting to unravel the mystery.

Scientists initially thought it had something to do with the cold, but this proved to be a false start. Researchers at the University of Southern California examined deaths from heart attacks between 1985 and 1996 in Los Angeles, a city with a mild winter and a daily minimum temperature that is relatively constant throughout the year. They found a seasonal variation in heart attacks, with a third more deaths occurring in January.

The researchers also analysed 1.7m death certificates (2005 to 2008) from seven US locations that ranged from hot to cold. Again they found a similar pattern of cardiac mortality including heart attacks in these different locations with a peak in January. These results chime with other studies conducted across the globe, including the UK, which uncovered a winter peak in deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Air pollution

Researchers have also considered air pollution, and here they seem to be on firmer ground. There is a seasonal rhythm to air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide levels – a key pollutant in causing premature deaths in Britain, for example, are at their highest in January in the large cities. Oxford Street in London is reported to be the most polluted street in the world for nitrogen dioxide. In fact, London is so polluted that in just the first seven days of 2015 and 2016, London already breached its legal limit on air pollution for the whole of that year.

Even short-term exposure to pollutants, from diesel and petrol fumes, is associated with increased deaths from heart attacks and strokes. Pollutants enter the bloodstream, via the lungs, where they initiate an inflammatory response. This can lead to blood clots in the arteries – a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

Flu

Another important trigger for heart attacks is infection. Infections are high during winter and there is a known link between the flu virus and cardiovascular disease. The flu virus affects inflammatory and blood-clotting pathways, which can cause fatty deposits on the artery wall (plaque) to break loose, leading to coronary artery blockage – the main cause of heart attacks.

The flu vaccine is associated with reduced hospitalisation and death in heart attacks and stroke. A five-year US$21m clinical trial began this year to test the effect of a high-dose flu vaccine (four-times the normal dose) to combat cardiac deaths.

 

Flu vaccination is associated with fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease. Peerayot/Shutterstock.com 
Other risk factors that are also seasonal include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and low vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased incidence and risk of heart attacks. Combine these with the previously mentioned risk factors for coronary death (pollution and flu), and you have a recipe for disaster.

Beware January mornings

It turns out these circulating risk factors not only have seasonal variations, but daily ones too. Research shows that they are at high levels in the morning and low in the evening. So, not only are we more susceptible to heart attacks in January but there is also a higher incidence of heart attacks between 6am and noon.

Almost every cell in our body has a group of interacting genes that act as a clock. These “circadian clocks” help to regulate biological processes, including clotting and inflammation. They ensure that our bodies follow a 24-hour rhythm and adapt to changes in our environment. Disruption of these internal timing mechanisms can lead to cardiac disorders. Indeed, a study showed that the Monday after the clocks go forward by one hour (daylight savings) there is a 24% increase in the numbers of heart attacks compared with any other Mondays of the year.

Lack of sleep can also increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Disrupting the circadian rhythms and sleep in the days after a heart attack can also hinder recovery.

So what do daily biological rhythms have to do with cardiovascular deaths in winter? Researchers at the JDRF/Wellcome Trust Diabetes and Inflammation Laboratory examined blood and fat-tissue samples from 16,000 people living in the UK, US, Iceland, Australia and The Gambia. They found almost a quarter of all our genes differ in activity according to the time of year, with some more active in winter than summer. The study revealed that numerous genes involved in regulating our immune system are seasonal. In other words, they express (make) proteins at different rates, depending on the season. One of these genes is ARNTL, an important circadian-clock gene that suppresses inflammation. ARNTL was found to be least active in January, which may contribute to the higher levels of inflammation.

What all this research is showing us is that January presents a “chronorisk” – where several risk factors, when occurring in the same time period, can be lethal. In the case of coronary deaths, the chronorisk is January. So in addition to wearing a thicker coat in January, make sure you get some decent hours of sleep, top up your vitamin D and stay away from heavy traffic and busy high streets; an easy task then during the busiest period of the year.

The Conversation

Nelson Chong, Senior Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences, University of Westminster

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

January 9, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Mediterranean diet may protect your brain in old age, new finding suggests

Paul Fletcher, University of Cambridge

 

Amid the contention about diets and detoxes, sugar and fats, there is at least general agreement that a Mediterranean diet – fruit, vegetables, olive oil, grains, fish – is a good thing. Now, a new study based on brain imaging in over 400 people seems to show that we have even more reason to celebrate this diet and, more importantly, to stick to it. The researchers found that over a three-year period – from the age of 73 to 76 – adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduction in the inevitable loss of brain volume that occurs with age.

The difference in volume loss associated with the diet is not large – about 2.5ml (half a teaspoon) – and it only accounts for a very small fraction of overall volume variability. But, who’s to say what you might achieve with that extra half teaspoon of brain? If these results prove reliable, there is surely an incentive to stock up on family-sized bottles of olive oil.

We already have evidence that the Mediterranean diet, and particularly higher fish and lower meat consumption, is associated with increased brain size. But it’s hard to interpret associations between lifestyle and the brain because a causal relationship is equally credible in both directions. That is to say, if I eat healthily and have a big brain, it might be that my diet is good for my brain or my big brain is good at helping me maintain my diet. Or there may be something that I haven’t measured, something that influences my brain and my diet separately. For example, if I live a comfortable, affluent, stress-free life perhaps this is simultaneously good for my brain and facilitates my healthy diet. If so, finding a healthy association between diet and a big brain does not mean that they are directly related.

 

The brain inevitably shrinks with age. gmstockstudio/Shutterstock.com  

 

These are critical considerations. Citing evidence to support lifestyle changes demands that one knows the precise lifestyle changes needed and what the precise benefits may be. This is why randomised control studies are so appealing. If you have two well-matched groups, subject them two controlled dietary interventions, and do a before and after analysis, you are on firmer ground when asserting that the dietary intervention has had a direct role in producing the changes.

While the researchers in this latest study did not carry out a randomised trial, however, they have nevertheless provided important insights by gathering repeat data, allowing them to compare brain size not in terms of absolute values but of changes across time.

At age 70, participants gave a detailed report on their dietary habits. On this basis, they could be characterised as “high” and “low” in their adherence to a Mediterranean diet. Three years later, they had a baseline brain scan and, a further three years afterwards, brain changes from this baseline were assessed with a second brain scan, so every participant served as their own control. This is a powerful approach and, as well as using the initial scans to confirm that brain volume is indeed greater in people who follow the Mediterranean diet more closely, they determined that, between the ages of 73 and 76 years, there was a greater loss of brain volume for those with low adherence to the diet. This remained significant when taking into account a number of highly relevant factors relating to age, sex, health, body weight, education and aspects of psychological functions.

Interpret with caution

These findings are consistent with the heartening possibility that the right diet has a genuine impact on brain tissue loss. But the authors are cautious, and rightly so. To begin with, their results are not entirely consistent with previous studies of the diet’s effects on the brain. They failed to find, for example, previously-observed effects of higher fish and lower meat consumption. It becomes hard to know whether it is the diet as a whole or specific components of it that could exert the positive effect on brain volume.

The analysis also shows that cognitive function did not significantly differ across the diet styles, raising the question of just how useful it might be to alter brain loss at this scale.

Also, as the researchers acknowledge, they carried out several statistical tests looking for significant associations – ones that have a low p-value (the probablility of finding this difference when there is not a true difference in brain size) – and from this they found the reduction in brain loss. But if you take all of these searches into account, picking out a significant association (brain volume) from non-significant ones (for example, a lack of change to the volume of grey matter), you increase your chances of accidentally attributing significance to something that occurs just by chance.

Although the authors have made nice attempts in their design and analysis in ruling out potentially complicating factors, there is still necessarily an ambiguity over cause and effect here. They previously showed in another study that an apparent relationship between Mediterranean diet and later-life cognitive functions could actually be accounted for by childhood IQ.

While the current analysis ruled out a similar explanatory role of a more constrained IQ measure and of a set of tests of mental function, we must bear in mind the possibility that there are other factors, unaccounted for here, that could separately relate to dietary adherence and brain volume and would therefore produce an illusion of a dietary influence on brain. For example, it’s not clear whether excessive alcohol consumption might associate with a non-Mediterranean diet. Or perhaps levels of physical activity could also play a part.

But, at the same time, there are reasons why this finding – that adherence to a Mediterranean diet results in less brain loss in the elderly – may be even stronger than the numbers show. Participants were split according to the general style of their diet. So some in the high and low diet groups would actually have been quite near the mid-point and so less likely to show strong effects. One might imagine that, if you took two groups who more purely exemplified the Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean diets, there could be even bigger effects on brain volume. We shall see. In any case, keep eating the legumes. Even if it turns out that the Mediterranean diet doesn’t stop your brain from shrinking, there are still plenty of other benefits to be had.

The Conversation

Paul Fletcher, Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

January 9, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
How CRISPR lets us edit our DNA | Jennifer Doudna

 

Geneticist Jennifer Doudna co-invented a groundbreaking new technology for editing genes, called CRISPR-Cas9. The tool allows scientists to make precise edits to DNA strands, which could lead to treatments for genetic diseases … but could also be used to create so-called “designer babies.” Doudna reviews how CRISPR-Cas9 works — and asks the scientific community to pause and discuss the ethics of this new tool.

 


 

Jennifer Doudna was part of inventing a potentially world-changing genetic technology: the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9.
Together with her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden, Berkeley biologist Jennifer Doudna is at the center of one of today’s most-discussed science discoveries: a technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that allows human genome editing by adding or removing genetic material at will. This enables fighting genetic diseases (cutting out HIV, altering cancer cells) as well as, potentially, opening the road to “engineered humans.”

Because some applications of genetic manipulation can be inherited, Doudna and numerous colleagues have called for prudent use of the technology until the ethics and safety have been properly considered.

January 5, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Lipid Metabolism Is Potential ‘Achilles’ Heel’ for Cancer Stem Cells

 

Researchers have discovered a metabolic signature critical for the functioning of “cancer stem cells” that initiate tumor formation. The team also showed how to interfere with this metabolic mechanism in ovarian cancer, inhibiting tumor growth.

“The cancer stem cells are resistant to conventional therapies and are responsible for tumor relapse after chemotherapy and development of distant metastases,” said Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in Purdue University‘s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry. “Understanding their unique characteristics and vulnerabilities will enable the development of targeted therapies with the ultimate goal of overcoming tumor relapse and metastasis.”

New research focuses on targeting cancer stem cells by inhibiting the activities of enzymes needed to carry out a metabolic process called “desaturation” of lipid molecules.

“Unsaturated lipids in the cancer stem cells are very important to maintain the signaling needed to function,” said Cheng, a member of Purdue’s Center for Cancer Research. “Researchers have known about cancer stem cells for a while, but lipid metabolism in these cells is a very new topic. Understanding the lipid metabolism in cancer stem cells opens a new way for cancer detection and treatment.”

Purdue postdoctoral research associate Junjie Li is a co-first author of a paper appearing in the journal Cell Stem Cell regarding research into “cancer stem cells” that initiate tumor formation. The research is led by Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry. (Purdue University photo/Erin Easterling)

 

 

The work was performed by researchers at Purdue, Indiana University School of Medicine, and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared online Dec. 29 in the journal Cell Stem Cell. The paper will be published in the journal’s March 2 print issue.

“In this study, we identify and characterize for the first time lipid unsaturation in ovarian cancer stem cells by chemical imaging of single living cells,” said Purdue postdoctoral research associate Junjie Li, who was the paper’s co-first author along with Salvatore Condello, a research assistant professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine.

The researchers demonstrated that a specific “signaling pathway” directly regulates the production of lipid enzymes, called fatty acid desaturases.

“Collectively, our findings reveal that increased lipid unsaturation is a metabolic marker for ovarian cancer stem cells and a target for therapy focusing on these types of cells,” said Cheng, working with the Northwestern University team led by Daniela Matei, a professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Lipid metabolism
This graphic illustrates an approach to potentially treat ovarian cancer by interfering with the metabolic mechanism of “cancer stem cells,” which initiate tumor formation. (Purdue University photo/Ji-Xin Cheng)

 

 

Identifying unique metabolic traits, which can be exploited as an Achilles’ heel to eliminate cancer stem cells, is an important step forward, said Matei, co-senior author of the paper.

“Here we propose a completely new strategy to eradicate recalcitrant cancer cells responsible for tumor recurrence after standard treatment and elucidate how lipid metabolism contributes to the survival of ovarian cancer stem cells,” she said.

The paper was authored by Li; Condello; gynecologic oncologist Jessica Thomes-Pepin, formerly at IU and now at Minnesota Oncology; former Purdue postdoctoral research associate Xiaoxiao Ma; Yu Xia, an associate professor of chemistry at Purdue; Thomas D. Hurley, a professor in the IU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Matei; and Cheng.

Until now, the lack of sensitive single-cell analysis tools has limited the characterization of metabolic activity in cancer stem cells. The imaging methods used in the study were developed by Cheng’s group and allow researchers to detect the signature in single cells. Because cancer stem cells represent a tiny population of the total number of cancer cells, the single-cell sensitivity is important for detecting hidden metabolic signatures.

The new approach uses two technologies: hyperspectral stimulated Raman scattering imaging of single living cells and mass spectrometry analysis of extracted lipids.

“We report here significantly increased levels of unsaturated lipids in ovarian cancer stem cells compared to non-cancer stem cells,” Cheng said. “Conventional methods can’t do single cell analysis. If the signature is localized in a very small area, it is not easily detected by conventional biochemical assay. By stimulated Raman microscopy, we can better pinpoint these cells through the metabolic signature.”

The lipid-desaturation signature was identified in laboratory cultures of ovarian cancer stem cells and in cells from human patients. Higher lipid unsaturation levels also were detected in cancer stem cell-enriched laboratory cultures called “spheroids,” a three-dimensional culture that mimics tumors in human patients.The researchers used a chemical to inhibit the activities of desaturases and reduce the “stemness” of the cells, rendering them less lethal. Inhibition of lipid desaturases effectively eliminated cancer stem cells, suppressed spheroid formation in laboratory cultures, and blocked tumor initiation capacity in laboratory mice, Cheng said.

“We don’t directly block the signaling pathway, but we block fatty acid metabolism so that the unsaturated lipids are reduced, and that actually suppresses the function of the cancer stem cells,” Li said. [Science & Technology Research News]

January 4, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
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