The future of medicine and health
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This Electronic Temporary Tattoo Will Soon Be Tracking Your Health | Wired Design |

This Electronic Temporary Tattoo Will Soon Be Tracking Your Health | Wired Design | | The future of medicine and health |
This stick-on silicon electrode network is wearable technology to the extreme, designed as a non-invasive diagnostic sensor.


FitBit too bulky? Why not glue a sensor array to your skin?

The quantified self goes nanoscale with a stick-on silicon electrode network that could not only change the way we measure health metrics, but could enable a new form of user interface. And the researchers behind it aim to have the device available in the next few weeks through a spinoff company, MC10.

The development takes wearable technology to the extreme, designed as a non-invasive diagnostic sensor that could be used to measure hydration, activity, and even infant temperature. It bonds to the skin, somewhat like a temporary tattoo, flexing and bending in sync with your skin the way you wish a Band-Aid would. How? Researchers at the University of Illinois, Dalian University of Technology in China, and the University of California at San Diego made it really, really small.

With a thickness of 0.8 micrometers at the widest — around one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair — the thin mesh of silicon actually nestles in to the grooves and creases in your skin, even the ones too small to see. Being small helps, but it’s also important that the silicon is laid out in a serpentine pattern and bonded to a soft rubber substrate, allowing the stiff material to flex, a little bit like an accordion.

“Although electronics, over the years, has developed into an extremely sophisticated form of technology, all existing commercial devices in electronics involve silicon wafers as the supporting substrate,” says John Rogers, who led the study published this week in Advanced Materials.

Matthew Booth's curator insight, March 22, 2013 8:31 AM

This article shows the miniaturisation of the medical world, while we still see big bulky machines in hospitals, one day everything might be as small and as unnoticeable. The photos and information show just how tiny this is and will be good to show in the essay, how this technology can be nano.

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Ginger-derived nanoparticles attack the roots of inflammatory bowel disease

Ginger-derived nanoparticles attack the roots of inflammatory bowel disease | The future of medicine and health |
Ginger has a long and rich history when it comes to improving our wellbeing. Its medical use can be traced back thousands of years as a natural remedy for things like diarrhea and upset stomachs, but still today the thick, knotted root continues to reveal some hidden talents. Researchers have taken fresh ginger and converted it into a nanoparticle that exhibits real potential to treat these kinds of symptoms in one of their more chronic forms, inflammatory bowel disease, and might even help fight cancer, too.

The discovery was the result of a collaboration between researchers at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Georgia State University. Based on previous research highlighting the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant, the team set out to further explore the potential for ginger to treat conditions relating to the digestive tract.

The research began with a fresh ginger root purchased at a farmer's market, which the team ground up in a typical kitchen blender. But the process was a little more complicated from that point, with the team using super-high-speed centrifugation and ultrasonic dispersion to break the ginger apart into tiny particles, each measuring around 230 nanometers across.
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Five myths about lower back pain

Five myths about lower back pain | The future of medicine and health |
Lower back pain is the greatest source of global disability, ahead of nearly 300 other conditions, leading to huge levels of healthcare costs and suffering. And the effects go far beyond pain, weakness and stiffness – they also have a huge impact the social and family lives of sufferers.

Many people with lower back pain don’t manage it well because of wrong advice – and a lot of unhelpful myths about what back pain is and what you should do about it. Healthcare professionals all over the world speak to patients who think, for example, that back pain can damage their backs. This is not always the case. The weight of evidence shows that many assumptions made about lower back pain are wrong and, what’s more, could be harmful. Below are some of the most common misconceptions.
1. Moving will make my back pain worse

Do not fear twisting and bending. It is essential to keep moving. Muscles that are in spasm, due to pain, relax when gently moved and stretched. Gradually increase how much you are doing, and stay on the move.
2. Avoid exercise (especially weight training)

Back pain should not stop you enjoying exercise or regular activities. In fact, studies have found that continuing with these can help you get better sooner – including weight training. All exercise is safe provided you gradually build up intensity and do not immediately return to previous levels of exercise after an acute episode of pain.
3. A scan will show exactly what is wrong

There is a poor correlation between findings on a scan and sources of pain. Most adults without back pain will have changes in the anatomy of their spine that are visible age-related adaptations that don’t cause any problems (they are the spinal equivalent of skin wrinkles, visible but not a source of pain). Finding a feature on a spine scan that is strongly related to pain or a serious threat to health is exceptionally rare (less than 1%).
4. Pain equals damage

This was an established view, but more recent research has changed our thinking. Level of pain has very little relationship to damage to the spine and more to do with your unconscious and conscious interpretation of the level of threat the pain represents to the sufferer. Cultural influences, work, stress, past experience and duration of symptoms have a stronger relationship with pain than the number of normal age-related changes you have on your scan.
5. Heavy school bags cause back pain

Heavy school bags are safe. There is no established link between heavy school bags and back pain, but interestingly there is a link with the development of back pain and the child or parent perceiving that the bag will cause problems.
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Green beans: why pulses are the eco-friendly option for feeding – and saving – the world

Green beans: why pulses are the eco-friendly option for feeding – and saving – the world | The future of medicine and health |
We all know the score: current trends predict there will be 9.7 billion mouths to feed by 2050. Producing enough food without using more land, exacerbating climate change or putting more pressure on water, soil and energy reserves will be challenging.

In the past, food security researchers have focused on production with less attention paid to consumer demand and how food is ultimately used in meals. However as developing nations aspire towards the “Western diet”, demand for meat and animal products is rapidly climbing.

This is bad news for the planet. Meat is a luxury item and comes at a huge environmental cost. Shuttling crops through animals to make protein is highly inefficient: in US beef, just 5% of the original protein survives the journey from animal feed to meat on the plate. Even milk, which has the best conversion efficiency, has just 40% of the original protein.

Consequently, livestock farming requires huge amounts of water and land for grazing and feed production, taking up an estimated 70% of all agricultural land and 27% of the human water footprint. Much of this land is becoming steadily degraded through overgrazing and erosion, prompting farmers to expand into new areas; 70% of cleared forest in the Amazon, for instance, is now pastureland. Livestock production is also one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, including 65% of man-made nitrous oxide emissions (which have a global warming potential 296 times greater than CO₂).

Nevertheless, millions of people in developing countries still suffer from protein malnutrition. The burden, therefore, must fall on people in richer nations to reduce their meat consumption and embrace other sources of protein.
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A new invisible film made from healthy corneal cells could restore vision to millions

A new invisible film made from healthy corneal cells could restore vision to millions | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists in Australia have developed a technique for growing corneal cells on a thin layer of film in the lab, which can then be implanted into the eye to restore vision lost to corneal damage.

The method, which has so far been successfully demonstrated in animal trials, could have the potential to dramatically increase access to corneal transplants – which could change the lives of some 10 million people worldwide.

"We believe that our new treatment performs better than a donated cornea, and we hope to eventually use the patient's own cells, reducing the risk of rejection," says biomedical engineer Berkay Ozcelik, who led the research while at the University of Melbourne. "Further trials are required but we hope to see the treatment trialled in patients next year."

The cornea is the eye's outermost layer. To keep healthy, it needs to stay moist and transparent, but ageing, disease, and trauma can all lead to corneal damage, such as swelling, which results in vision deterioration.
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Too much 'good' cholesterol linked to early death - Futurity

Too much 'good' cholesterol linked to early death - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Commonly touted as “good cholesterol” for helping reduce risk of stroke and heart attack, both high and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol may increase a risk of premature death, a new study suggests.

Conversely, intermediate HDL cholesterol levels may increase longevity.

“The findings surprised us,” says Ziyad Al-Aly, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “Previously it was thought that raised levels of the good cholesterol were beneficial. The relationship between increased levels of HDL cholesterol and early death is unexpected and not fully clear yet. This will require further study.”

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in blood that can narrow and block heart vessels, causing cardiovascular disease and stroke. For years, HDL cholesterol has been credited with helping to remove plaque-building “bad cholesterol” from arteries.

Researchers studied kidney function and HDL cholesterol levels in more than 1.7 million male veterans from October 2003 through September 2004. Researchers then followed participants until September 2013.

Patients with kidney disease frequently have lower levels of HDL cholesterol, which might explain their increased risk of early death; however, the association between elevated HDL cholesterol levels and premature death in these patients has been unclear.
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Sperm quality in dogs is rapidly declining, and it could be a big warning for human fertility

Sperm quality in dogs is rapidly declining, and it could be a big warning for human fertility | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists have assessed the fertility of male dogs in Britain over the past three decades to find that it’s declined by a whopping 30 percent across five common breeds.

While the researchers aren’t concerned that dogs will lose their ability to reproduce any time soon, they do say the find could have serious implications for human fertility, pointing to the possibility that industrial chemicals in our food packaging could be to blame.

"The dogs who share our homes are exposed to similar contaminants as we are, so the dog is a sentinel for human exposure," lead researcher Richard G. Lea, from the University of Nottingham in the UK, told The New York Times.

Back in 1988, Lea and his team decided to monitor changes in dog fertility by analysing a population of service animals at a centre for disabled people in England.

A total of 232 dogs from five different breeds - Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, curly coat retrievers, border collies and German shepherds - were included in the study, and the fertility has been tested every year up to 2014.

As Jan Hoffman explains for The Times, the benefit of working with these dogs in particular is that, not only do they come from an environment where systematic record-keeping is kept for their health and lineage, but they’re also being raised in one location with uniform conditions.
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Staying single might be even better for you than getting married

Staying single might be even better for you than getting married | The future of medicine and health |
Despite what society might try to tell us, being single doesn’t have to be a bad thing - in fact, for some people, it's even better than being paired up, with researchers finding that single life can impart a whole lot of benefits that marriage doesn’t.

In a recent presentation to the American Psychological Association, psychologist Bella DePaulo, pointed to evidence that single people can have richer, more meaningful lives than their married counterparts.

"The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude," said DePaulo, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life - one that recognises the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful."

One study cited by DePaulo showed that people who are single are often closer to their parents, siblings, friends, neighbours, and co-workers. Another study showed they had a heightened sense of self-determination, and demonstrated continued growth and development as an adult.

DePaulo is now conducting her own research into this topic in the hopes of breaking down “singlism” – the stereotype that single people are somehow less worthy than their married counterparts.
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This body builder has no pulse and plugs himself into the wall at night

This body builder has no pulse and plugs himself into the wall at night | The future of medicine and health |
If you want to know just how far medical technology has come, take a look at Andrew Jones. The fitness model and bodybuilder from Connecticut lives an active life that would put most of us to shame, despite relying on an artificial heart pump and pacemaker that he carries in a backpack 24/7.

AJ lives with the scars of past operations and has to charge up his lifesaving equipment every night, but remains incredibly positive while waiting for a full heart transplant that would let him drop the backpack for good.

"I'm pretty much the best-looking zombie you'll ever see," he says, referring to the fact you won't find a pulse anywhere on his body.

Is it just me, or does watching AJ working out with the weight of an artificial heart system strapped to his back make all the usual excuses for missing the gym seem more than a little flimsy...

Just like 25-year-old Stan Larkin, who wore a similar backpack device for 555 days while waiting for his own transplant, Andrew relies on the equipment constantly wired to his body to keep everything in check.

The device he's using is a Left Ventricular Assist Device, or LVAD. It combines a battery pack and a computer that monitors blood flow and keeps the blood pumping around the body in a natural way.
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Drunk or high: Which prompts more sex regrets? - Futurity

Drunk or high: Which prompts more sex regrets? - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
For a new study, researchers asked people about their experiences before, during, and after sex while under the influence of marijuana and alcohol.

“With marijuana becoming more accepted in the US along with more liberal state-level policies, it is important to examine users’ sexual experiences and sexual risk behavior associated with use to inform prevention and harm reduction,” says Joseph J. Palamar, an affiliate of New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center.

In this study, the researchers interviewed 24 adults (12 men and 12 women, all self-identified as heterosexual and HIV-negative) who recently used marijuana before sex. Compared to marijuana, alcohol use was more commonly associated with social outgoingness and use often facilitated connections with potential sexual partners.

On the other hand, alcohol was more likely than marijuana to lead to atypical partner choice or post-sex regret.
Pros and cons

As reported in Archives of Sexual Behavior, alcohol was commonly used as a social lubricant to meet sexual partners, and this was related, in part, to alcohol being readily available in social gatherings.

“Interestingly, some users reported that the illegality of marijuana actually facilitated sexual interactions,” notes Palamar. “Since smoking marijuana recreationally is illegal in most states and smoking it tends to produce a strong odor, it usually has to be used in a private setting. Some individuals utilize such private or intimate situations to facilitate sexual encounters.”

While users often described favorable sexual effects of each drug, both alcohol and marijuana were reportedly associated with a variety of negative sexual effects including sexual dysfunction. For example, marijuana use was linked to vaginal dryness and alcohol was commonly described as increasing the likelihood of impotence among males.

The researchers note that the sexual effects tended to be similar across males and females, and both alcohol and marijuana were generally associated with loss of inhibitions. Both drugs appear to be potentially associated with increased feelings of self-attractiveness, but possibly more so for alcohol, and participants reported feelings of increased sociability and boldness while consuming alcohol.
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Implantable sand-sized sensors to monitor internal goings on in real time

Implantable sand-sized sensors to monitor internal goings on in real time | The future of medicine and health |
Health and fitness monitors may have come along in leaps and bounds, but there's still a whole lot they don't know about us. Placing miniaturized sensors deep inside our bodies would be one way to change that, and now it seems such a technology mightn't be so far away. Scientists have developed tiny wireless sensors they call "neural dust", which track nerve signals and muscles in real time, opening up a wide array of potential applications that range from checking internal organs to wirelessly controlling prosthetics with your mind.

Neural dust is more than just a catchy name. The researchers, from the University of California, Berkeley, have managed to squish the sensors into 1 mm cubes around the size of a large grain of sand, and implanted them into the muscles and peripheral nerves of rats. These cubes house piezoelectric crystals that turn ultrasound vibrations (applied from outside the body) into electricity. This provides a power source for a miniature on-board transistor that rests in contact with the nerve to measure electrical activity.

When there is a voltage spike in the adjacent nerve, it modifies the circuit and in turn the vibrations of the piezoelectric crystals. When the vibrations are bounced back to an ultrasound device on the outside of the skin, the change in echo can be analyzed to reveal the voltage of the nerve.

"Having access to in-body telemetry has never been possible because there has been no way to put something supertiny superdeep," says Michel Maharbiz, one of the study's co-authors. "But now I can take a speck of nothing and park it next to a nerve or organ, your GI tract or a muscle, and read out the data."
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There's a 'switch' in our brains that wakes us up

There's a 'switch' in our brains that wakes us up | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists are one step closer to unravelling the mystery of sleep after pinpointing a 'switch' in the brain that tells us when to go to sleep and wake up.

Sleep is governed by two systems – the circadian clock, which responds to daily environmental changes and the sleep homeostat, about which very little is known.

The circadian clock reacts to predictable changes like day and night, making sure people sleep at appropriate times, but it doesn't explain why humans need sleep in the first place.

"That explanation will likely come from understanding the second controller—called the sleep homeostat," said University of Oxford researcher Professor Gero Miesenböck whose lab conducted the research.

"The homeostat measures something - and we don’t know what that something is - that happens in our brains while we are awake, and when that something hits a certain ceiling, we go to sleep. The system is reset during sleep, and the cycle begins anew when we wake up," he said.

The researchers studied the sleep homeostat in the brains of fruit flies, the same creatures that were used in ground-breaking research into circadian clocks around 45 years ago.
Read more

IBM is one step closer to mimicking the human brain
IBM is one step closer to mimicking the human brain
By Lee Bell

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Scientists came to a fascinating conclusion after looking at the DNA of thousands of people with depression

Scientists came to a fascinating conclusion after looking at the DNA of thousands of people with depression | The future of medicine and health |
It's the leading disability worldwide and it can kill.

Yet for decades, scientists have known surprisingly little about what genes are linked with the development of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

A new study aims to change that. In their paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Genetics, a team of scientists pinpointed 17 genetic tweaks, or SNPs (pronounced "snips"), that appear to be tied to MDD.

The researchers combed through a trove of genetic data from thousands of people who submitted their information to the personal genomics company 23andMe.

Scientists have been looking for such genetic hallmarks of depression for years. And while some, including a 2013 study in the journal The Lancet and a 2015 paper in the journal Nature, have yielded some promising clues, none have been able to spot any precise, reliable genetic hallmarks of the disease.

And least not until now.

"My group has been chasing depression genes for more than a decade without success, so as you can imagine we were really thrilled with the outcome," Harvard psychiatry professor Roy Perlis, one of the leading authors of the paper and the Associate Director of the Psychiatric Genetics Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Business Insider.

The hope is that identifying these watermarks in our DNA — tiny areas on genes where high amounts of variation tend to occur among individuals — will help usher in a series of new, more precise treatments for people suffering from the disease.
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Eric Topol describes great progress in genomic and digital medicine, but he’s still “impatient”

Eric Topol describes great progress in genomic and digital medicine, but he’s still “impatient” | The future of medicine and health |
ric Topol, a cardiologist and professor of genomics at the Scripps Research Institute, is a leading proponent of using DNA analysis and digital technologies to understand each patient as an individual. In addition to using these technologies with his own patients, he works as an advisor to companies including Illumina and Gilead Sciences, and he shares his insights through a Twitter feed that is required reading for those interested in the topic. In his book The Creative Destruction of Medicine, Topol describes how the ability to inexpensively sequence an individual genome, combined with new health applications made possible by wireless technology, can make medical care more customized and effective. He spoke to Business Reports senior editor Nanette Byrnes by phone from La Jolla, California.

Health data tracked on phones and devices is one way medicine can become more personal, you argue.
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It's no wonder women opt for caesareans over natural birth when they are not given a real choice

It's no wonder women opt for caesareans over natural birth when they are not given a real choice | The future of medicine and health |
The announcement that women may be routinely warned of the risks of “normal” vaginal birth, along with those of caesarean section, has sparked some fascinating debates, specifically about what “informed choice” means. A recent article on The Conversation argued that it may be worth informing at least those with particular risks from vaginal birth, such as older women, about the different options.

But there are different scenarios linked to having vaginal birth – and they each come with different risks and benefits. For example, there are risks associated with being exposed to unexpected interventions such as drugs to speed labour up, forceps or emergency cesarean section during labour. These may lead to a greater need for stitches, or to higher infection rates. However, these interventions are not inevitable.

An audit by the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) showed that rates of interventions in labour differed widely between hospitals. It suggested that on average only 44.9% of women have a normal birth without interventions, and that the rate varied between 39.5% and 51.8% across the UK. Many of these procedures may have been unnecessary – according to the World Health Organisation, up to 80% of all women should be able to give birth without them, and women who give birth in places where vaginal birth happens with lower levels of interventions have lower risks of negative outcomes.
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Next Big Future: Neuroprosthesis to mimic, repair and improve cognition

Next Big Future: Neuroprosthesis to mimic, repair and improve cognition | The future of medicine and health |
They have developed a ready-for-the-clinic brain prosthetic to help people with memory problems. The broad target market includes people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as those who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Surgeons will one day implant Kernel’s tiny device in their patients’ brains—specifically in the brain region called the hippocampus. There, the device’s electrodes will electrically stimulate certain neurons to help them do their job—turning incoming information about the world into long-term memories.

In Berger’s approach, electrodes in the hippocampus first record electrical signals from certain neurons as they learn something new and encode the memory. These electrical signals are the result of neurons “firing” in specific patterns. Berger studied how electrical signals associated with learning are translated into signals associated with storing that information in long-term memory. Then his lab built mathematical models that take any input (learning) signal, and produce the proper output (memory) signal.
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Sugar has a stronger effect on our brains than we even realised, study finds

Sugar has a stronger effect on our brains than we even realised, study finds | The future of medicine and health |
German scientists have discovered that our brains are actively taking in sugar from the blood stream, overturning the long-held assumption that this was a purely passive process.

Even more surprising, they also found that it’s not our neurons that are responsible for absorbing all that sugar - it’s our glial cells, which make up 90 percent of the brain’s total cells, and until very recently, have been shrouded in mystery.

Not only does the find go against conventional wisdom on how our brains respond to sugar intake, it also shows how cells other than our neurons can actively play a role in controlling our behaviour.

Astrocytes - which are a specialised form of glial cell that outnumber neurons more than fivefold - have long been thought of as little more than ‘support cells’, helping to maintain the blood-brain barrier, carry nutrients to the nervous tissue, and play a role in brain and spinal cord repair.

But we now have evidence that they also play a role in human feeding behaviours, with researchers finding that their ability to sense and actively take in sugar is regulating the kinds of appetite-related signals that our neurons send out to the rest of the body.

And we’re not talking about a little bit of sugar here: the human brain experiences the highest level of sugar consumption out of every organ in the body.
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Rare genetic disorder opens window into the social brain

Rare genetic disorder opens window into the social brain | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers from the University of California San Diego have developed a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder that could help shed light on the workings of the human social brain.

Williams syndrome (WS) is caused by the deletion of one copy of 25 genes located next to each other on chromosome 7 and affects 1 in 10,000 people worldwide. The disorder is associated with a range of medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, and individuals with WS typically have distinctive facial features consisting of a wide mouth, full lips and small chin.

WS is also linked to with neurological problems such as spatial deficits and developmental delays, but unlike autism, children with WS can have a highly social and trusting nature, as well as strong language and facial processing abilities and an affinity for music.

"I was fascinated on how a genetic defect, a tiny deletion in one of our chromosomes, could make us friendlier, more empathetic and more able to embrace our differences," says Alysson Muotri, an associate professor from UC San Diego and co-senior author of the study.

In previous research Muotri had used reprogrammed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from teeth to create cellular models of autism, a method that was applied to WS for the current study.
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400-year-old Greenland shark ‘longest-living vertebrate’ - BBC News

400-year-old Greenland shark ‘longest-living vertebrate’ - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Greenland sharks are now the longest-living vertebrates known on Earth, scientists say.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the ages of 28 of the animals, and estimated that one female was about 400 years old.

The team found that the sharks grow at just 1cm a year, and reach sexual maturity at about the age of 150.

The research is published in the journal Science.

Lead author Julius Nielsen, a marine biologist from the University of Copenhagen, said: "We had our expectations that we were dealing with an unusual animal, but I think everyone doing this research was very surprised to learn the sharks were as old as they were."

The former vertebrate record-holder was a bowhead whale estimated to be 211 years old.

But if invertebrates are brought into the longevity competition, a 507-year-old clam called Ming holds the title of most aged animal.
Slow swimmers

Greenland sharks are huge beasts, that can grow up to 5m in length.

They can be found, swimming slowly, throughout the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic.

With this leisurely pace of life and sluggish growth rate, the sharks were thought to live for a long time. But until now, determining any ages was difficult.
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Why do we wake up stiff in the mornings? Scientists discover the answer 

Why do we wake up stiff in the mornings? Scientists discover the answer  | The future of medicine and health |
Scientists have discovered why we wake up stiff in the morning - because our body's natural ibuprofen has not kicked in yet.

Researchers revealed the reason our limbs can feel rigid and achy when we rise is because the body's biological clock suppresses anti-inflammatory proteins during sleep.

When we start moving around each morning our body is playing catch up as the effects of the proteins wear off.

The research by scientists at Manchester University could help develop drugs to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Dr Julie Gibbs, a researcher at the Centre for Endocrinology and Diabetes at the University of Manchester's Institute of Human Development, said: "By understanding how the biological clock regulates inflammation, we can begin to develop new treatments, which might exploit this knowledge.

"Furthermore, by adapting the time of day at which current drug therapies are administered, we may be able to make them more effective."
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From medical treatment to diet and lifestyle choice: how to spot unreliable health research

From medical treatment to diet and lifestyle choice: how to spot unreliable health research | The future of medicine and health |
One day we’re told that coffee causes cancer, the next that it protects us from it. Does this sound familiar? We’re all bombarded by confusing and contradictory health information every day – supposedly based on scientific evidence. But most of us have a difficult time assessing the quality of this evidence, particularly if it’s online. Many people who use health information on a daily basis haven’t been trained to appraise research critically, and even those that have may struggle to maintain the skills over time.

We find this worrying, particularly given recent efforts to make research more open and accessible. To try to improve the situation, we have launched a free online tool called Understanding Health Research to help guide anybody who wants to understand a health research paper through the process of asking the right questions, so they can weigh up the evidence.

There are real benefits to health literacy, which is the ability to understand, assess and use health information. These skills have been linked to better health outcomes, better relationships with healthcare providers, and better decision making.

However, critically appraising research is not just “common sense”. And not knowing the right questions to ask means that anything that sounds “sciencey” can hold the same sway, regardless of its scientific merit. While many health and science journalists do great work filtering out flawed and poor quality evidence, unfortunately plenty of bad health reporting is out there, and it can cause real damage.

For example, it can result in skewed coverage of good quality research and can legitimise unjustified claims. One way this can happen is when journalists introduce “balance” to stories, presenting opposing views. If the vast majority of scientists support a piece of good quality research and one maverick opposes it, a quote from each camp incorrectly makes it look like scientists are divided on the issue – a phenomenon dubbed “false balance”.
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From Sci Fi to reality: Unlocking the secret to growing new limbs

From Sci Fi to reality: Unlocking the secret to growing new limbs | The future of medicine and health |
Many lower organisms retain the miraculous ability to regenerate form and function of almost any tissue after injury. Humans share many of our genes with these organisms, but our capacity for regeneration is limited. Scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, are studying the genetics of these organisms to find out how regenerative mechanisms might be activated in humans.

The ability of animals to regenerate body parts has fascinated scientists since the time of Aristotle. But until the advent of sophisticated tools for genetic and computational analysis, scientists had no way of studying the genetic machinery that enables regeneration. Using such tools, scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory have identified genetic regulators governing regeneration that are common across species.

In a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, MDI Biological Laboratory scientists Benjamin L. King, Ph.D., and Voot P. Yin, Ph.D., identified these common genetic regulators in three regenerative species: the zebrafish, a common aquarium fish originally from India; the axolotl, a salamander native to the lakes of Mexico; and the bichir, a ray-finned fish from Africa.

The discovery of genetic mechanisms common to all three of these species, which diverged on the evolutionary tree about 420 million years ago, suggests that these mechanisms aren't specific to individual species, but have been conserved by nature through evolution.

"I remember that day very well—it was a fantastic feeling," said King of the discovery. "We didn't expect the patterns of genetic expression to be vastly different in the three species, but it was amazing to see that they were consistently the same."

The discovery of the common genetic regulators is expected to serve as a platform to inform new hypotheses about the genetic mechanisms underlying limb regeneration. The discovery also represents a major advance in understanding why many tissues in humans, including limb tissue, regenerate poorly—and in being able to possibly manipulate those mechanisms with drug therapies.

"Limb regeneration in humans may sound like science fiction, but it's within the realm of possibility," said Yin. "The fact that we've identified a genetic signature for limb regeneration in three different species with three different types of appendages suggests that nature has created a common genetic instruction manual governing regeneration that may be shared by all forms of animal life, including humans."
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49 health 'facts' you've been told all your life that are totally wrong

49 health 'facts' you've been told all your life that are totally wrong | The future of medicine and health |
Carrots give you night vision. Swimming after eating will give you cramps. You need to drink eight glasses of water a day. Organic food is more nutritious and free of pesticides.

Nope, nope, nope, and nope.

Who hasn't shared these and other amazing-sounding notions about about health and the human body, only to feel embarrassed later on — when you find out the information was inaccurate or flat-out wrong?

It's time to put an end to these alluring myths, misconceptions, and inaccuracies passed down through the ages.

To help the cause we've rounded up and corrected dozens of the most popular health "facts" that we've heard.
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Is it true that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger?

Is it true that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger? | The future of medicine and health |
It may seem that wise, strong people typically have gone through a few hard times in their lives. By comparison, those who have led a very sheltered and privileged life often appear to crack more easily under pressure. But is it really true that some degree of pain and trauma can make us stronger? And if so, at what point does it destroy us?

Seriously traumatic events – such as accidents or terrorist attacks – can evoke fear and helplessness in the face of a threat to life or serious injury. Fear responses are often more extreme if the trauma is unsystematic and random. That’s because the utter senselessness of the situation makes it difficult for individuals to interpret what is happening around them. How does one explain the mindless murder of the innocent, for example?

These events corrupt the sense of confidence, stability and trust we have in the world. But miraculously it turns out they can actually help us be stronger – although not everyone. Indeed, psychologists have long been interested in why some individuals appear to overcome traumatic events and thrive while others appear unable to recover, continuing to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or other mental-health problems.
Building resilience

Research on victims of serious trauma has found that about 75% of them do not appear to be significantly impaired after the incident, despite being stressed and traumatised at the time of the incident. So what characteristics do those individuals have that are different?

First and foremost it is a quality that psychologists call resilience, the ability to cope and adapt in the face of hardship, loss or adversity. It is the capacity to deal effectively with stress and pressure and to rebound from disappointments and mistakes. A person with psychological resilience is able to solve problems and meet life’s challenges with confidence and purpose, demonstrating impressive self-renewal skills when necessary.
Whether it’s chronic illness, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or fear and threat of violence, resilient individuals have better coping success when under psychological distress, higher self-efficacy and self-esteem as well as more optimism and hope. They also tend to have fewer psychological and health-related problems. Resilient individuals are typically also internally consistent, assertive, cognitively flexible, autonomous and have a personal moral compass and an ability to face their fears.
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Could this household chemical mess with your body's microbiome?

Could this household chemical mess with your body's microbiome? | The future of medicine and health |
Some scientists are raising concerns about a common antimicrobial chemical found in household products millions of people use every day, and what it might do to the healthy balance of bacteria in the human body.

Triclosan is used in many brands of toothpastes, antibacterial soaps, and disinfecting wipes and gels. It's infused into everything from cosmetics to plastics to kitchen utensils, and even added to toys to make them germ-resistant. It's so widespread that a 2008 study found traces of triclosan in urine samples of 75 percent of the population.

What's the significance for our health? The long-term verdict is still out. "Triclosan is not known to be hazardous to humans," the FDA states. But it adds, "In light of questions raised by recent animal studies of triclosan, FDA is reviewing all of the available evidence on this ingredient's safety in consumer products." So far the main concerns have focused on bacterial resistance and possible impact on the body's endocrine system (the hormones that affect growth, reproduction and other functions).

Some animal studies have suggested another potential issue: absorbing triclosan could be doing silent damage to the microbiome -- the communities of billions of microbes in each of our bodies that work together to play a vital role in human health. A small study in humans, however, found no evidence of harm to the microbiome. A paper published Friday in the journal Science examines the conflicting evidence about triclosan's effect on these important networks of microscopic helpers, and stresses the need for further research.

Given the growing evidence that a person's microbiome can influence everything from the immune system to weight problems to a range of debilitating disorders, the authors say triclosan's role is worth scrutinizing.
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'Hacking nerves can control disease' - BBC News

'Hacking nerves can control disease' - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Controlling human nerve cells with electricity could treat a range of diseases including arthritis, asthma and diabetes, a new company says.

Galvani Bioelectronics hopes to bring a new treatment based on the technique before regulators within seven years.

GlaxoSmithKline and Verily, formerly Google, Life Sciences, are behind it.

Animal experiments have attached tiny silicone cuffs, containing electrodes, around a nerve and then used a power supply to control the nerve's messages.

One set of tests suggested the approach could help treat type-2 diabetes, in which the body ignores the hormone insulin.

They focused on a cluster of chemical sensors near the main artery in the neck that check levels of sugar and the hormone insulin.

The sensors send their findings back to the brain, via a nerve, so the organ can coordinate the body's response to sugar in the bloodstream.

GSK vice-president of bioelectronics Kris Famm told the BBC News website: "The neural signatures in the nerve increase in type 2-diabetes.

"By blocking those neural signals in diabetic rats, you see the sensitivity of the body to insulin is restored."

And early work suggested it could work in other diseases too.

"It isn't just a one-trick-pony, it is something that if we get it right could have a new class of therapies on our hands," Mr Famm said.
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