Articles from August 2022



Can Humans Become Immortal?

Long life, de-aging, and immortality are some of the concepts that humans keep fiddling with. But, so far, there have been no answers that could unlock the secret of immortality, if it exists. Scientists have now turned for answers to the immortal jellyfish, a creature capable of repeatedly reverting into a younger state.

Spanish researchers have managed to decipher the genome of the immortal jellyfishTurritopsis dohrnii, and have defined various genomic keys that contribute to extending its longevity to the point of avoiding its death. Led by Dr. Carlos López-Otín of the University of Oviedo, the team mapped the genetic sequence of the unique jellyfish in hopes of unearthing the secret to their unique longevity and finding new clues to human aging. The study has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They sequenced Turritopsis dohrnii, together with that of its sister Turritopsis rubra to identify genes that are amplified or have different variant characteristics between the two.Turritopsis rubra is a close genetic cousin that lacks the ability to rejuvenate after sexual reproduction. They unraveled that T. dohrnii has variations in its genome that may make it better at copying and repairing DNA and they appear to be better at maintaining the ends of chromosomes called telomeres. The telomere length has been shown to shorten with age in humans.

Rather than having a single key to rejuvenation and immortality, the various mechanisms found in our work would act synergistically as a whole, thus orchestrating the process to ensure the successful rejuvenation of the immortal jellyfish,” Maria Pascual-Torner, first author of the article said in a statement. ”

Like other types of jellyfish, the T. dohrnii goes through a two-part life cycle, living on the sea floor during an asexual phase, where its chief role is to stay alive during times of food scarcity. When conditions are right, jellyfish reproduce sexually. Although many types of jellyfish have some capacity to reverse aging and revert to a larval stage, most lose this ability once they reach sexual maturity, the authors wrote. Not so for T. dohrnii.

Meanwhile, Carlos López-Otín, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Asturian university said, “This work does not pursue the search for strategies to achieve the dreams of human immortality that some announce, but to understand the keys and limits of the fascinating cellular plasticity that allows some organisms to be able to travel back in time. From this knowledge, we hope to find better answers to the numerous diseases associated with aging that overwhelm us today“.

Source: https://www.indiatoday.in/

How to Boost Neuron Production

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago have discovered that increasing the production of new neurons in mice with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) rescues the animals’ memory defects. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM), shows that new neurons can incorporate into the neural circuits that store memories and restore their normal function, suggesting that boosting neuron production could be a viable strategy to treat AD patients.

New neurons are produced from neural stem cells via a process known as neurogenesis. Previous studies have shown that neurogenesis is impaired in both AD patients and laboratory mice carrying genetic mutations linked to AD, particularly in a region of the brain called the hippocampus that is crucial for memory acquisition and retrieval.

Boosting neurogenesis increases the number of newly formed  neurons involved in storing  and retrieving memories (arrows) in the hoppocampus of mice with Alzheimer’s

However, the role of newly formed neurons in memory formation, and whether defects in neurogenesis contribute to the cognitive impairments associated with AD, is unclear,” says Professor Orly Lazarov of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology in the University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine.

In the new JEM study, Lazarov and colleagues boosted neurogenesis in AD mice by genetically enhancing the survival of neuronal stem cells. The researchers deleted Bax, a gene that plays a major role in neuronal stem cell death, ultimately leading to the maturation of more new neurons. Increasing the production of new neurons in this way restored the animals’ performance in two different tests measuring spatial recognition and contextual memory.

By fluorescently labeling neurons activated during memory acquisition and retrieval, the researchers determined that, in the brains of healthy mice, the neural circuits involved in storing memories include many newly formed neurons alongside older, more mature neurons. These memory-stowing circuits contain fewer new neurons in AD mice, but the integration of newly formed neurons was restored when neurogenesis was increased.

Further analyses of the neurons forming the memory-storing circuits revealed that boosting neurogenesis also increases the number of dendritic spines, which are structures in synapses known to be critical for memory formation, and restores a normal pattern of neuronal gene expression.

Lazarov and colleagues confirmed the importance of newly formed neurons for memory formation by specifically inactivating them in the brains of AD mice. This reversed the benefits of boosting neurogenesis, preventing any improvement in the animals’ memory.

Our study is the first to show that impairments in hippocampal neurogenesis play a role in the memory deficits associated with AD by decreasing the availability of immature neurons for memory formation,” Lazarov says. “Taken together, our results suggest that augmenting neurogenesis may be of therapeutic value in AD patients.

Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/

New Lab-Made Cartilage to Rebuild Your Knees Efficiently

Over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, steroid injections — some people have tried it all and are still dealing with knee pain. Often knee pain comes from the progressive wear and tear of cartilage known as osteoarthritis, which affects nearly one in six adults — 867 million people — worldwide. For those who want to avoid replacing the entire knee joint, there may soon be another option that could help patients get back on their feet fast, pain-free, and stay that way.

Writing in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, a Duke University-led team says they have created the first gel-based cartilage substitute that is even stronger and more durable than the real thing. Mechanical testing reveals that the Duke team’s hydrogel — a material made of water-absorbing polymers — can be pressed and pulled with more force than natural cartilage, and is three times more resistant to wear and tearImplants made of the material are currently being developed by Sparta Biomedical and tested in sheep. Researchers are gearing up to begin clinical trials in humans next year.

Duke researchers have developed a gel-based cartilage substitute to relieve achy knees that’s even stronger and more durable than the real thing. Clinical trials to start next year

If everything goes according to plan, the clinical trial should start as soon as April 2023,” said Duke chemistry professor Benjamin Wiley, who led the research along with Duke mechanical engineering and materials science professor Ken Gall.

To make this material, the Duke team took thin sheets of cellulose fibers and infused them with a polymer called polyvinyl alcohol — a viscous goo consisting of stringy chains of repeating molecules — to form a gel. The cellulose fibers act like the collagen fibers in natural cartilage, Wiley said — they give the gel strength when stretched. The polyvinyl alcohol helps it return to its original shape. The result is a Jello-like material, 60% water, which is supple yet surprisingly strong.

Natural cartilage can withstand a whopping 5,800 to 8,500 pounds per inch of tugging and squishing, respectively, before reaching its breaking point. Their lab-made version is the first hydrogel that can handle even more. It is 26% stronger than natural cartilage in tension, something like suspending seven grand pianos from a key ring, and 66% stronger in compression — which would be like parking a car on a postage stamp. “It’s really off the charts in terms of hydrogel strength,” Wiley said.

The team has already made hydrogels with remarkable propertiesIn 2020, they reported that they had created the first hydrogel strong enough for knees, which feel the force of two to three times body weight with each step.

Source: https://today.duke.edu/
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https://www.spartabiomedical.com/

No More Glasses for Blurry Vision

New eye drops can limit the use for reading glassesVuity has just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and local ophthalmologists say it can be a life-changerThe drops are meant for people dealing with Presbyopia, an age-related eye issue that causes blurry vision

We all know the reading glasses are annoying,” said Dr. Ella Faktorovich, an ophthalmologist with Pacific Vision Institute. “Within 15 minutes you can see your computer, you can see your phone so you can really improve the range of vision. I think it is huge.” She says the drops target the focusing mechanism in the eye. The drops shrink the pupils and increase focus on theeye.

There are many kinds of this medicine in trials, but this is the first to be approved,” she said. “It is pretty remarkable.” It can help people like Lovester Law, who is currently writing a book. He says he spends hours looking at a screen to write“After I read too much or write to long, I just have to close my eyes and relax,” he explained.

“If we live long enough our eyes are going to age, they are not going to be like they used to be.” People who want the drops will have to consult an eye doctor, because they are only available through a prescription. Doctors at UCSF say this breakthrough can be a catalyst for future eye treatment. The data we have shows that it really really works,” stated Julie Schallhorn, Associate Professor of ophthalmology at UCSF. “It is an exciting time to be in this field, and an exciting time for our patients.

The FDA approval of VUITY was based on data from two pivotal phase 3 clinical studies, GEMINI 1 and GEMINI 2, which evaluated the efficacy, safety and tolerability of VUITY for the treatment of presbyopia.

Source: https://news.abbvie.com/

Smart Contact Lenses for Cancer Diagnostics and Screening

Scientists from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation (TIBI) have developed a contact lens that can capture and detect exosomes, nanometer-sized vesicles found in bodily secretions which have the potential for being diagnostic cancer biomarkers. The lens was designed with microchambers bound to antibodies that can capture exosomes found in tears. This antibody- conjugated signaling microchamber contact lens (ABSM-CL) can be stained for detection with nanoparticle-tagged specific antibodies for selective visualization. This offers a potential platform for cancer pre-screening and a supportive diagnostic tool that is easy, rapid, sensitive, cost-effective, and non-invasive.

Exosomes are formed within most cells and secreted into many bodily fluids, such as plasma, saliva, urine, and tears. Once thought to be the dumping grounds for unwanted materials from their cells of origin, it is now known that exosomes can transport different biomolecules between cells. It has also been shown that there is a wealth of surface proteins on exosomes – some that are common to all exosomes and others that are increased in response to cancer, viral infections, or injury. In addition, exosomes derived from tumors can strongly influence tumor regulation, progression, and metastasis.

Because of these capabilities, there has been much interest in using exosomes for cancer diagnosis and prognosis/treatment prediction. However, this has been hampered by the difficulty in isolating exosomes in sufficient quantity and purity for this purpose. Current methods involve tedious and time-consuming ultracentrifuge and density gradients, lasting at least ten hours to complete.

Source: https://terasaki.org/

Induced PluriPotent Stem Cells

Some of the first trials to test whether reprogrammed stem cells can repair diseased organs have begun to report positive results. Research teams involved in the studies, all based in Japan, say they provide early hints that the hotly anticipated technology works. But many researchers outside the country are cautious about overstating the significance of the trials, saying they were small and the results have yet to be peer reviewed.

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are those that have been reprogrammed from mature cells — often taken from the skin — into an embryonic-like state. From there, they can then turn into any cell type and be used to repair damaged organs.

In January, researchers reported in a preprint1 that the first person in Japan given a transplant of heart-muscle cells made from reprogrammed stem cells had experienced improved heart function following the procedure. Then, in April, another group announced that several people’s vision had improved after their diseased corneas were transplanted with corneal cells made from reprogrammed stem cells — a world first.

Ongoing trials are “delivering encouraging first insights into the evolution of iPS-cell-based therapies, from lab to patient”, says Wolfram-Hubertus Zimmermann, a pharmacologist at the University Medical Centre Göttingen in Germany.

The biggest impact of the iPS-cell trials in Japan so far is that they “give people confidence all over the world that it is doable”, says Kapil Bharti, a translational stem-cell researcher at the US National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

The iPS-cell field is hugely popular in Japan, in large part because it was a local scientist, Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, who discovered how to make the cells. Expectations for the potential uses of iPS cells soared in 2012, when Yamanaka won the medicine Nobel prize for his 2006 discovery. In 2013, the Japanese government announced that it would pour ¥110 billion (US$814 million today) over the next ten years into regenerative medicine.

In that time, Japanese scientists have launched at least ten trials in people. These have largely shown that the technology is safe, but have yet to establish that it has a beneficial effect. Now, public enthusiasm has waned, which threatens future government funding, says Masayo Takahashi, an ophthalmologist and president of the cell-therapy company Vision Care in Kobe, Japan.

iPS-cell technology has only been around for 16 years. And bringing it into clinical testing has happened unbelievably fast,” says Zimmermann. “The challenge is that this is all happening under high public attention.”

Source: https://www.nature.com/

The FDA Approved the First Online Vision Test

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 16 approved the first online visual acuity test made by the telehealth company Visibly. This clearance will allow adults ages 22 to 40 to evaluate their vision from the convenience of their homes. The FDA approval may increase access for people who are in need of a renewed prescription for glasses or contacts but cannot travel to an appointment. However, it’s not a replacement for an in-person eye exam.

During the pandemic, a lot of people delayed elective health care that was really important,” said Yuna Rapoport, MD, MPH, a board-certified ophthalmologist at Manhattan Eye. “Overall, this remote vision test is helpful. If you really want an accurate prescription, and there’s a way to get to a doctor’s office, I would still say that that’s a better option.”

A visual acuity test is one of the most important components of an eye exam. It measures how well you can see by testing the smallest letters or images you can read clearly.

According to Visibly, the online visual test is best for “people whose vision has not changed, have recently completed a comprehensive eye exam,” and are looking to renew an expired prescription. The test is not a substitute for, nor does it provide screening or diagnosis for eye health or eye diseases, which should be performed by a licensed provider, according to the FDA.

Paul Foley, Visibly’s chief operating officer, said in a press release that the online vision test will increase at-home use and complement in-person eye care. The test takes about six minutes to complete and 90% of the prescriptions are issued within 24 hours, according to the company.

Source: https://www.govisibly.com/
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https://www.verywellhealth.com/

Artificial Intelligence Detects Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose as it relies primarily on the appearance of motor symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, and slowness, but these symptoms often appear several years after the disease onset. Now, Dina Katabi, the Thuan (1990) and Nicole Pham Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at MIT and principal investigator at MIT Jameel Clinic, and her team have developed an artificial intelligence model that can detect Parkinson’s just from reading a person’s breathing patterns.

The tool in question is a neural network, a series of connected algorithms that mimic the way a human brain works, capable of assessing whether someone has Parkinson’s from their nocturnal breathing — i.e., breathing patterns that occur while sleeping. The neural network, which was trained by MIT PhD student Yuzhe Yang and postdoc Yuan Yuan, is also able to discern the severity of someone’s Parkinson’s disease and track the progression of their disease over time.

The MIT researchers demonstrated that the artificial intelligence assessment of Parkinson’s can be done every night at home while the person is asleep and without touching their body. To do so, the team developed a device with the appearance of a home Wi-Fi router, but instead of providing internet access, the device emits radio signals, analyzes their reflections off the surrounding environment, and extracts the subject’s breathing patterns without any bodily contact. The breathing signal is then fed to the neural network to assess Parkinson’s in a passive manner, and there is zero effort needed from the patient and caregiver.

A relationship between Parkinson’s and breathing was noted as early as 1817, in the work of Dr. James Parkinson. This motivated us to consider the potential of detecting the disease from one’s breathing without looking at movements,” Katabi says. “Some medical studies have shown that respiratory symptoms manifest years before motor symptoms, meaning that breathing attributes could be promising for risk assessment prior to Parkinson’s diagnosis.”

Yang is first author on a new paper describing the work, published today in Nature Medicine. Katabi, who is also an affiliate of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and director of the Center for Wireless Networks and Mobile Computing, is the senior author. They are joined by Yuan and 12 colleagues from Rutgers University, the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Boston University College of Health and Rehabilition.

Source: https://news.mit.edu/

Sticker on the Skin Provides Clear Image of Heart, Lungs

Ultrasound imaging is a safe and noninvasive window into the body’s workings, providing clinicians with live images of a patient’s internal organs. To capture these images, trained technicians manipulate ultrasound wands and probes to direct sound waves into the body. These waves reflect back out to produce high-resolution images of a patient’s heart, lungs, and other deep organs.

Currently, ultrasound imaging requires bulky and specialized equipment available only in hospitals and doctor’s offices. But a new design by MIT engineers might make the technology as wearable and accessible as buying Band-Aids at the pharmacy. In a paper appearing today in Science, the engineers present the design for a new ultrasound sticker — a stamp-sized device that sticks to skin and can provide continuous ultrasound imaging of internal organs for 48 hours.

The researchers applied the stickers to volunteers and showed the devices produced live, high-resolution images of major blood vessels and deeper organs such as the heart, lungs, and stomach. The stickers maintained a strong adhesion and captured changes in underlying organs as volunteers performed various activities, including sitting, standing, jogging, and biking. The current design requires connecting the stickers to instruments that translate the reflected sound waves into images. The researchers point out that even in their current form, the stickers could have immediate applications: For instance, the devices could be applied to patients in the hospital, similar to heart-monitoring EKG stickers, and could continuously image internal organs without requiring a technician to hold a probe in place for long periods of time.

If the devices can be made to operate wirelessly — a goal the team is currently working toward — the ultrasound stickers could be made into wearable imaging products that patients could take home from a doctor’s office or even buy at a pharmacy.

We envision a few patches adhered to different locations on the body, and the patches would communicate with your cellphone, where AI algorithms would analyze the images on demand,” says the study’s senior author, Xuanhe Zhao, professor of mechanical engineering and civil at MIT. “We believe we’ve opened a new era of wearable imaging: With a few patches on your body, you could see your internal organs.

The study also includes lead authors Chonghe Wang and Xiaoyu Chen, and co-authors Liu Wang, Mitsutoshi Makihata, and Tao Zhao at MIT, along with Hsiao-Chuan Liu of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Source: https://news.mit.edu/

E-Skin transmits Glucose Concentrations, Blood Pressure, Heart Rate, to Your Smartphone

Wearable sensors are ubiquitous thanks to wireless technology that enables a person’s glucose concentrations, blood pressure, heart rate, and activity levels to be transmitted seamlessly from sensor to smartphone for further analysis. Most wireless sensors today communicate via embedded Bluetooth chips that are themselves powered by small batteries. But these conventional chips and power sources will likely be too bulky for next-generation sensors, which are taking on smaller, thinner, more flexible forms.

Now MIT engineers have devised a new kind of wearable sensor that communicates wirelessly without requiring onboard chips or batteries. Their design, detailed today in the journal Science, opens a path toward chip-free wireless sensors. The team’s sensor design is a form of electronic skin, or “e-skin” — a flexible, semiconducting film that conforms to the skin like electronic Scotch tape. The heart of the sensor is an ultrathin, high-quality film of gallium nitride, a material that is known for its piezoelectric properties, meaning that it can both produce an electrical signal in response to mechanical strain and mechanically vibrate in response to an electrical impulse. The researchers found they could harness gallium nitride’s two-way piezoelectric properties and use the material simultaneously for both sensing and wireless communication.

In their new study, the team produced pure, single-crystalline samples of gallium nitride, which they paired with a conducting layer of gold to boost any incoming or outgoing electrical signal. They showed that the device was sensitive enough to vibrate in response to a person’s heartbeat, as well as the salt in their sweat, and that the material’s vibrations generated an electrical signal that could be read by a nearby receiver. In this way, the device was able to wirelessly transmit sensing information, without the need for a chip or battery.

Chips require a lot of power, but our device could make a system very light without having any chips that are power-hungry,” says the study’s corresponding author, Jeehwan Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and of materials science, and a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics. “You could put it on your body like a bandage, and paired with a wireless reader on your cellphone, you could wirelessly monitor your pulse, sweat, and other biological signals.”

Jeehwan Kim’s group previously developed a technique, called remote epitaxy, that they have employed to quickly grow and peel away ultrathin, high-quality semiconductors from wafers coated with graphene. Using this technique, they have fabricated and explored various flexible, multifunctional electronic films. In their new study, the engineers used the same technique to peel away ultrathin single-crystalline films of gallium nitride, which in its pure, defect-free form is a highly sensitive piezoelectric material.

The team looked to use a pure film of gallium nitride as both a sensor and a wireless communicator of surface acoustic waves, which are essentially vibrations across the films. The patterns of these waves can indicate a person’s heart rate, or even more subtly, the presence of certain compounds on the skin, such as salt in sweat.

Source: https://news.mit.edu/