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Robots: The future of elder care?

Robots: The future of elder care? | The future of medicine and health |

Would you let a robot take over as a live-in nurse for your aging parent or grandparent?

In 2050, the elderly will account for 16 percent of the global population. That's 1.5 billion people over the age of 65, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Caring for those seniors - physically, emotionally and mentally - will be an enormous undertaking, and experts say there will be a shortage of professionals trained and willing to take on the job.

"We have to find more resources and have to get new ways of delivering those resources and delivering the quality of care," says Antonio Espingardeiro, an expert in robotics and automation at the University of Salford in Manchester, England.

Enter the elder-care robot.

Via Szabolcs Kósa
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What your father did before you were born could influence your future

What your father did before you were born could influence your future | The future of medicine and health |
t might not just be expectant mothers who have to pay attention to their lifestyle. Now a new study published in Science could be relevant to a growing body of research looking at ways in which the lifestyle and environment of men before they become fathers could influence the lives of their children and grandchildren.

We know that many human traits, such as weight, height, susceptibility to disease, longevity or intelligence, can be partly inherited, but researchers have so far struggled to identify the precise genetic basis for this. This may partly be due to limitations in our understanding of how genetics works, but now there is growing interest in the potential for something called “epigenetics” to explain this heritability.

Epigenetics refers to the information in the genome over and above that contained in the DNA sequence. This information takes a number of forms, but the most popular ones scientists have studied relate to the chemical modification (known as methylation and acetylation) of DNA and the proteins called histones that together make up the human genome.

This epigenetic information – which influences which copies of the genes in our DNA are “expressed”, or used – may be passed from one generation to another during reproduction. It can even persist within a lifetime in a person’s tissues and organs, even as their cells are replenished.
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Algorithm predicts sexual orientation of men with up to 70% accuracy, say researchers

Algorithm predicts sexual orientation of men with up to 70% accuracy, say researchers | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers claim they have come up with an algorithm that can predict the sexual orientation of males with up to 70% accuracy.

The team behind the research, presented at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in Baltimore on Thursday, believes they have come up with the first example of a predictive model for sexual orientation based on a molecular marker.

Scientists have long argued that genetic factors partly explain the differences in sexuality between people, and this algorithm is derived using the modification of the genetic information contained in DNA.

However, there was a sceptical response from many experts. Among the reservations expressed were that the findings, based on a study of 47 pairs of twins, and published only in abstract form – so yet to be peer-reviewed – might only point to an association rather than a predictive model and would also need replicating to be of significance.

The study is based on epigenetics, essentially additional information layered on top of the sequence of letters (strings of molecules called A, C, G and T) that makes up DNA.
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Drink a glass of olive oil every day – the Mediterranean way to a long life

Drink a glass of olive oil every day – the Mediterranean way to a long life | The future of medicine and health |
felt nauseous and dizzy. My attempted one week of following the intensive olive oil diet was not going well. It was eight in the morning and on an empty stomach I had only finished half of the small glass of golden liquid specially chosen by my Spanish friends as the smoothest Albequina variety of extra virgin olive oil. Dipping crusty warm bread into it before an evening meal is one thing. Drinking it neat in the morning was another.

For the sake of science and my book I was trying to emulate the diets of Cretan fishermen from the 1960s, who reportedly had a glass of olive oil for breakfast before a hard day of fishing or goat herding. These high intakes of oil had been suggested as a cause of their remarkable longevity, despite the large amounts of saturated fat they consumed as a result.

I decided to replace my usual yoghurt and fruit breakfast with the golden drink to test the story. Thirty minutes later I was lying on the floor after a faint in the hairdresser, which was unlikely to be a coincidence. Despite realising I maybe should have lined my stomach first, I abandoned my heroic attempt.

In Britain and the US, people consume on average around 1 litre of olive oil per person per year, but isn’t much compared to the Greeks, Italians and Spanish who all drink more 13 litres per person. Olive oil, with its high calories and mixed saturated and unsaturated fats, was once assumed by many doctors to be dreadfully unhealthy. But health surveys of European populations kept finding that southern Europeans lived longer and had less heart disease despite higher fat intakes. It turns out olive oil was the likely reason.
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Researchers massively edit the genome of pigs to turn them into perfect human organ donors

Researchers massively edit the genome of pigs to turn them into perfect human organ donors | The future of medicine and health |
(—One benefit of the closeness between pigs and humans is the potential to be organ donors. There are however, just a few nagging uncertainties that still stand in the way. The big one, the possibility of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs) getting reactivated inside the human organ recipient, is no longer the concern it once was. That comes thanks to the recent groundbreaking work of the one-man army of genetics, George Church, and his lab at Harvard. The latest news, just reported in Nature, is that the group was able to use CRISPR gene-editing techniques to inactivate 62 PERVs in pig embryos.

The one other big concern is rejection of donor organs by the human immune system. Church has reportedly tackled that problem too, by modifying over 20 genes in additional embryos that make the proteins that irritate our immune cells. Although many of these proteins typically reside on the cell surface, they can also be interior proteins which ultimately get chopped up into representative 'tags' that are exposed at the surface. We don't yet know exactly which genes these all are (and they will hopefully soon be published), but one might be able to make a few good guesses.

Researchers in China, have also had recent successes in making multiple CRISPR edits to pig genomes. They were even able to combine the technique with somatic cell nuclear transfer (the method used correct various mutations in the creation of multi-parental embryos) without mosaic mutation or any of the usual undesirable 'off-target' effects. Perhaps the most arresting news from the Chinese pig geneticists has been their creation of custom pet rainbow micropigs. Not only are these pigs miniature due to inactivation of one copy of their growth hormone receptor gene, but they can be ordered in different colors.

Clearly the genomes of all the higher forms of multicellular life must be no strangers to retroviruses. Not only did these genetic inserts co-evolve with their hosts, they orchestrated many of the primary genetic rearrangements that drove key physiologic adaptations—signature innovations like, for example, placentas. Primate genomes are littered with over a million copies one particular class of repeat elements that are believed to be retroviral derivatives. These elements, known as Alu's, seem to have evolved from various signal recognition RNAs, and possibly a few transfer RNAs.
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New 'light meter' discovered in the eye - Futurity

New 'light meter' discovered in the eye - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
The cornea is a light-sensitive tissue, according to new research. The findings add to past work proving the retina senses light as part of its role in synchronizing our body clocks to Earth’s cycle of light and darkness.

“Many interesting testable hypotheses follow from this finding,” says ophthalmologist Russell Van Gelder.

“Now we know that people have more photo sensors in their eye and body than was previously guessed, but the speculation of what comes next might be the most exciting aspect of this,” says Van Gelder, director of the University of Washington Medicine’s Eye Institute. He is a co-lead of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study’s most compelling finding is that neuropsin, a protein in the retina and cornea whose function in mammals was previously unknown, can sense light. Retinas and corneas kept in tissue culture could synchronize their daily rhythms to a light-dark cycle; retinas and corneas that lacked neuropsin could not do so.

This is an enticing result because neuropsin is also expressed in the skin and other parts of the body.
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Your body makes its own cannabis when you run (Wired UK)

Your body makes its own cannabis when you run (Wired UK) | The future of medicine and health |
Researchers have discovered that the "runner's high", usually attributed to endorphins -- the body's self-produced opiates -- may actually be caused by endocannabinoids, self-produced chemicals similar to those found in marijuana.

A new study by researchers at the University of Heidelberg medical school in Germany found that mice showed elevated levels of both endorphins and endocannabinoids after running, an activity they engage in for fun. The researchers also observed that mice were less sensitive to pain, less anxious and more tranquil after running, shown by their willingness to spend time in lighted areas of their cages rather than retreating to dark corners.

When the team used drugs to block the animals' endocannabinoid receptors, the mice were no longer relaxed after running, proving to be just as anxious as before their runs and very sensitive to pain. Blocking opioid receptors, on the other hand, didn't affect the creatures' post-run tranquillity.

But internal opioid receptors appear to play at least some role in the motivation to get on a treadmill or pound the pavement. A paper by a team from the University of Missouri describes findings which show that chemically activating the dopamine-releasing mu-opiod receptors of rats bred to love running makes them less inclined to exercise, demonstrating a direct link between the receptors and the urge to run. The team also found that shutting off the receptors entirely reduced activity in the rats, although not to the same degree.
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Gene magnifies the psychological impact of life events -- for better and for worse

Gene magnifies the psychological impact of life events -- for better and for worse | The future of medicine and health |
People with a certain type of gene are more deeply affected by their life experiences, a new study has revealed.

The findings challenge traditional thinking about depression, showing what might be considered a risk gene for depression in one context, may actually be beneficial in another.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne were interested in why some, but not all adults who have experienced sexual or physical abuse as children go on to develop long-term depression.

The research, published in British Journal of Psychiatry Open focussed on a particular gene, known as SERT, that transports the mood-regulating chemical, serotonin. Every person has one of three types of SERT gene, either the long-long (l/l), the short-long (s/l), or the short-short (s/s).

The team DNA tested 333 middle-aged Victorians of Northern and Western European ancestry. They recorded their depressive symptoms each year over a five-year period.

Those with the s/s genotype (23%) who had experienced sexual or physical abuse as a child were more likely to experience ongoing severe depressive symptoms in middle age. But, conversely, those with this same genotype but no history of abuse were happier than the rest of the population.

Researchers from the Departments of Psychiatry and General Practice at the University of Melbourne, say the findings challenge traditional thinking about depression.

In the future, the gene could signal a person’s susceptibility to depression, particularly if they have a history of child abuse. And it may help doctors identify patients who need extra assistance to recover from depression.

Lead investigator Dr Chad Bousman said while the relationship between the SERT gene and depression has been studied before, it has never been examined over time.

Tracking this relationship over five years provides insights on changes in depressive symptoms over time and evidence that these symptoms in some people are more affected by their life experiences.
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Scientists are working on an “exercise pill” so you never have to work out again

Imagine if, instead of sweating on the treadmill and forcing yourself through repetitive sit-ups, you could have the benefits of exercise without any of the effort. That scenario isn’t a ridiculous fantasy but a serious scientific goal, and researchers have recently published a major breakthrough: They have created a blueprint of the molecular reactions to exercise.

The findings, published in Cell Metabolism on Oct. 2, show that exercise causes 1,000 molecular changes in skeletal muscles. Dr. Nolan Hoffman, an author of the study and a research associate at the School of Molecular Bioscience, University of Sydney, says that the goal is to identify the most important changes, so that these can be replicated using drugs.

“We’ve created an exercise blueprint that lays the foundation for future treatments, and the end goal is to mimic the effects of exercise,” he tells Quartz from Sydney. “It’s long been thought that there were many signals elicited by exercise, but we were the first to create this map and we now know the complexity.”

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen worked together on the study, which used a technique called mass spectrometry to study the protein changes in skeletal muscle after exercise.

Four healthy males had a muscle biopsy before exercise, then rode an exercise bicycle as hard as they could for 10 minutes, and finally gave a second sample of muscle. Their samples were shipped to Sydney, where they were examined.

“We were definitely very thankful to these individuals, who not only gave their muscle samples to science but also before and after such a high intensity bout of exercise,” says Hoffman.
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Is the chilli pepper friend or foe? - BBC News

Is the chilli pepper friend or foe? - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
For thousands of years, humans have taken a masochistic pleasure from adding chilli to their food. Now research indicates that the spice that has undoubtedly made our lives more interesting may also make them longer.

There is only one mammal that enthusiastically eats chillies.

"Humans come into the Western hemisphere about 20,000 years ago," says Paul Bosland from New Mexico State University. "And they come into contact with a plant that gives them pain - it hurts them. Yet five separate times, chilli peppers were domesticated in the Western hemisphere because humans found some usefulness - and I think it was their medicinal use."

The potential for both health and harm has always been a defining characteristic of chilli peppers, and among scientists, doctors and nutritionists it remains a matter of some dispute which prevails.

A huge study, published this summer in the British Medical Journal, seemed to indicate that a diet filled with spices - including chillies - was beneficial for health.

A team at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences tracked the health of nearly half a million participants in China for several years. They found that participants who said they ate spicy food once or twice a week had a mortality rate 10% lower than those who ate spicy food less than once a week. Risk of death reduced still further for hot-heads who ate spicy food six or seven days a week.

Chilli peppers were the most commonly used spice among the sample, and those who ate fresh chilli had a lower risk of death from cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes.
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How Your Brain Is Wired Reveals the Real You

How Your Brain Is Wired Reveals the Real You | The future of medicine and health |
The brain’s wiring patterns can shed light on a person’s positive and negative traits, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience. The finding, published on September 28, is the first from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), an international effort to map active connections between neurons in different parts of the brain.

The HCP, which launched in 2010 at a cost of US$40 million, seeks to scan the brain networks, or connectomes, of 1,200 adults. Among its goals is to chart the networks that are active when the brain is idle; these are thought to keep the different parts of the brain connected in case they need to perform a task.

In April, a branch of the project led by one of the HCP's co-chairs, biomedical engineer Stephen Smith at the University of Oxford, UK, released a database of resting-state connectomes from about 460 people between 22 and 35 years old. Each brain scan is supplemented by information on approximately 280 traits, such as the person's age, whether they have a history of drug use, their socioeconomic status and personality traits, and their performance on various intelligence tests.
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These artificial teeth are as tough as real ones - Futurity

These artificial teeth are as tough as real ones - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Few structures in nature are more durable than teeth or seashells. The secret of these materials lies in their unique fine structure: They are composed of different layers in which numerous micro-platelets are joined together, aligned in identical orientation.

Now scientists have combined old and new technologies to construct artificial teeth that mimic the complex structure of natural teeth.

André Studart, a professor of complex materials at ETH Zurich, led the team that created the teeth using a technique called magnetically assisted slip casting (MASC).

“The wonderful thing about our new procedure is that it builds on a 100-year-old technique and combines it with modern material research,” says Studart’s doctoral student Tobias Niebel, coauthor of a paper describing the work published in the journal Nature Materials.
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Blindsight: the strangest form of consciousness

Blindsight: the strangest form of consciousness | The future of medicine and health |
When Daniel first walked into London’s National Hospital, ophthalmologist Michael Sanders could have had little idea that he would permanently alter our view of human consciousness.

Daniel turned up saying that he was half blind. Although he had healthy eyes, a brain operation to cure headaches seemed to have destroyed a region that was crucial for vision. The result was that almost everything to the left of his nose was invisible to him. It was as if he were looking out of a window, with the curtains drawn across half of his world.

And yet, as Sanders began testing him, he noticed something very strange: Daniel could reach out and grab Sanders’ hand, even when it must have fallen right behind his blind spot. It was as if some kind of “second sight” was guiding his behaviour, beyond his conscious awareness.

Intrigued, Sanders referred Daniel to the psychologists Elizabeth Warrington and Lawrence Weiskrantz, who confirmed the hunch with a series of clever tests. They placed a screen in front of Daniel’s blind spot, for instance, and asked him to point at a circle, when it appeared in different places. Daniel was adamant that he could not see a thing, but Weiskrantz persuaded him to just “take a guess”. Surprisingly, he was almost always right. Or Weiskrantz and Warrington would present a single line on the screen, and Daniel had to decide whether it was horizontal or vertical. Again, Daniel was adamant that nothing had appeared before his eyes, yet his accuracy was around 80%, much more than if he had been guessing randomly.
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To treat obesity, consider 100 trillion gut bugs - Futurity

To treat obesity, consider 100 trillion gut bugs - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
A drug that appears to target specific intestinal bacteria in mice may lead to new treatments for obesity and diabetes in humans.

Mice fed a high-fat diet and provided tempol, an antioxidant drug that may also help protect people from the effects of radiation, were significantly less obese than those that did not receive the drug.

“The two interesting findings are that the mice that received tempol didn’t gain as much weight and the tempol somehow impacted the gut microbiome of these mice,” says Andrew Patterson, assistant professor of molecular toxicology at Penn State.

“Eventually, we hope that this can lead to a new line of therapeutics to treat obesity and diabetes.”

The microbiome is the biological environment of microorganisms within the human body.

Tempol reduces some members of a bacteria—a genus of Lactobacillus—in the guts of mice. When the Lactobacillus levels decrease, a bile acid—tauro-beta-muricholic acid—increases. This inhibits FXR, farnesoid X receptor, which regulates the metabolism of bile acids, fats, and glucose in the body.

“The study suggests that inhibiting FXR in the intestine might be a potential target for anti-obesity drugs,” says Frank J. Gonzalez, laboratory metabolism chief of the National Cancer Institute.

Tempol may help treat type 2 diabetes symptoms. In addition to lower weight gain, the tempol-treated mice on a high-fat diet had lower blood glucose and insulin levels.

“Previously, Dr. (James) Mitchell observed a significant difference in weight gain in mice on tempol-containing diet,” Patterson says. “He approached us to help figure out what was going on, and it had been an interesting journey wading through the complexities of the microbiome.”

Mitchell is radiation biology branch chief at the National Cancer Institute.

Other studies have hinted at the relationship between tempol, the gut microbiome, and obesity, but did not focus on why the drug seemed to control weigh gain, Patterson says.
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First 'in womb' stem cell trial to begin - BBC News

First 'in womb' stem cell trial to begin - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
The first clinical trial injecting foetal stem cells into babies still in the womb has been announced.

It is hoped the cells, which are able to transform into a range of tissues, will lessen symptoms of incurable brittle bone disease.

The trial, starting in January, will be led by Sweden's Karolinska Institute and in the UK by Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The stem cells will come from terminated pregnancies.

Brittle bone disease, officially called osteogenesis imperfecta, affects around one in every 25,000 births.

It can be fatal with babies born with multiple fractures. Even those who survive face up to 15 bone fractures a year, brittle teeth, impaired hearing and growth problems.

It is caused by errors in the developing baby's DNA -­ their blueprint of life -­ that mean the collagen supposed to give bone its structure is either missing or of poor quality.

The donated stem cells should provide the correct instructions for growing bone.
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The creature with the key to immortality? - BBC News

The creature with the key to immortality? - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
Sea anemones are a common sight on many coastlines, and despite their brightly coloured appearance it seems they may have more common with humans than people realise. What's more, researchers are wondering whether the creatures could hold the secret to eternal life, writes Mary Colwell.

The wicked queen in the tale of Snow White is famous for her rhetorical question: "Mirror Mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" But her dream of eternal youth is an elusive one - as the years roll by the human body slowly but surely shrinks, sags and droops as cells mutate and die. Hearing, mobility, mental agility, muscle and brain mass all decline.

The queen is on a trajectory common to most living organisms, apart, that is, from a humble, often overlooked creature of the seashore - the sea anemone.

Once thought to be plants, sea anemones are soft bodied animals that attach themselves to rocks and coral reefs in shallow waters. Their tentacles inject venom into the small fish and shrimp that brush up against them and guide the paralysed prey into the mouth - an opening that also functions as an anus.

There are more than 1,000 species of anemone, varying in size from a few centimetres to more than a metre across. They live in every ocean, from the warmest to the coldest.

The most familiar in the UK is the beadlet anemone. At low tide the tentacles are drawn in and the animals look like blobs of deep red jelly stuck to the rock. But as the water flows, the blobs transform and start to resemble flowers, their tentacles caressing the moving water, searching for food.

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Epigenetic 'tags' linked to homosexuality in men

Epigenetic 'tags' linked to homosexuality in men | The future of medicine and health |
The biology of sexual orientation has been one of the most vexing — and politically charged — questions in human genetics. For the first time, researchers have found associations between homosexuality and markers attached to DNA that can be influenced by environmental factors.

Twin studies and family trees provide strong evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly genetic. When one identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the other will be as well1. But because this rate is not 100%, it is thought that environmental factors play a role as well. One of the best characterized is the 'older brother effect': the chance of a man being gay increases by 33% for each older brother he has2. The reason is not clear, although one hypothesis holds that the mother’s immune system begins to react against male antigens and alter the fetus’s development.

To search for factors that could mediate a link between environment and genes, geneticist Eric Vilain at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and his colleagues looked at epigenetic markers — chemical changes to DNA that affect how genes are expressed, but not the information they contain. These 'epi-marks' can be inherited, but can also be altered by environmental factors such as smoking, and are not always shared by identical twins
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Elephants Should be Riddled With Cancer. But They’re Not. Why?

Elephants Should be Riddled With Cancer. But They’re Not. Why? | The future of medicine and health |
Being an elephant is risky business. I'm not talking about poaching, habitat loss, or fighting with males in musth—I'm talking about the simple fact of living. Every time an elephant cell divides, it runs the risk of going haywire and developing into an out-of-control tumor. Since elephants have 100 times the number of cells that human beings do, they should have 100 times the risk of getting cancer. That's a lot of mistakes waiting to happen.

In reality, given their size and prodigious lifespans, elephants have one of the lowest cancer mortality rates in the animal kingdom: 4.8 percent, compared to a range of 11 to 25 percent for humans. How can this be?

Scientists at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah School of Medicine, and Primary Children’s Hospital helped figure out the answer, published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Another team, made up of University of Chicago researchers and their colleagues, posted a related paper this week. As it turns out, elephants have developed some ingenious safeguards against developing cancer. Understanding their cellular protections might help us learn more about how to suppress cancer in humans.
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Open Bionics adds superhero appeal to prostheses for kids

Open Bionics adds superhero appeal to prostheses for kids | The future of medicine and health |
Historically, those born without a hand or have one amputated can choose prosthetic devices that focus on realism and, for a steeper price, fine motor control. Open Bionics has unveiled several new designs for the youngest of prosthesis owners, and paired small size with kid appeal. Swerving away from realism, these prostheses are literally modeled after superheroes. Calling these the world's smallest bionic hands, Open Bionics argues that for kids it transforms being different into being cool.

Yesterday, Open Bionics unveiled three LED-studded designs at Techstars' Disney Accelerator Demo Day. The Accelerator program offers capital to select startups, along with creative resources and royalty-free access to Disney characters.

A Jedi lightsaber hand was designed in collaboration with Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB and modeled by a 12-year-old boy. Two other designs emulated Tony Stark's signature bionic style and Elsa from Disney's Frozen with her characteristic baby blue sparkles.

The superhero prosthetic arm project is part of founder Joel Gibbard's larger vision of prostheses design. After he created the open source Open Hand Project, he began talking to prostheses users about what was most important to them in a prosthesis.

Through this process, he determined that people were more concerned with the weight and look of the prosthetic hand than the amount of fine motor control that it had. Many users additionally must rely on using a claw rather than a realistic hand due to the costs involved. This led him to change his focus to improving the aesthetics and reducing the weight of the artificial hand, envisioning a prosthesis as a tool or fashion accessory, rather than a literal interpretation of a human arm.

In this train of thought, a superhero prosthetic arm becomes the perfect accessory for a child. Gibbard relates seeing child amputees try to hide cosmetic hands (a prosthesis that isn't functional but merely decorative) because of a feeling of seeming different or refusing to wear one because of its heft. But a superhero-inspired prosthetic hand transforms a medical device into an imaginative statement.
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Chemistry Nobel: Lindahl, Modrich and Sancar win for DNA repair - BBC News

Chemistry Nobel: Lindahl, Modrich and Sancar win for DNA repair - BBC News | The future of medicine and health |
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded for discoveries in DNA repair.

Tomas Lindahl and Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar were named as the winners on Wednesday morning at a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Their work uncovered the mechanisms used by cells to repair damaged DNA - a fundamental process in living cells and important in cancer.

Prof Lindahl is Swedish, but has worked in the UK for more than three decades.

The prize money of eight million Swedish kronor (£634,000; $970,000) will be shared among the winners.

"It was a surprise. I know that over the years I've occasionally been considered for a prize, but so have hundreds of other people. I feel lucky and proud to be selected today," Tomas Lindahl, from the UK's Francis Crick Institute, told journalists.

Claes Gustafsson, from the Nobel Committee, said the recipients had "explained the processes at the molecular level that guard the integrity of our genomes".
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Why Science Can’t Say When a Baby’s Life Begins

Why Science Can’t Say When a Baby’s Life Begins | The future of medicine and health |
Scott Gilbert was walking through the halls of Swarthmore when he saw the poster, from a campus religious group: “Philosophers and theologians have argued for centuries about when personhood begins,” it read. “But scientists know when it begins. It begins at fertilization.” What troubled Gilbert, who is a developmental biologist, was the assertion that “scientists know.” “I couldn’t say when personhood begins, but I can say with absolute certainty scientists don’t have a consensus,” he says.

When life begins is, of course, the central disagreement that fuels the controversy over abortion. Attacks on abortion rights are now more veiled and indirect—like secret videos pointing to Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donations, or state legislation that makes operating abortion clinics so onerous they have to shut down. But make no mistake, the ultimate question is, when does a fetus become a person—at fertilization, at birth, or somewhere in between?

Here, modern science offers no clarity. If anything, the past century of scientific advances have only made the answer more complicated. As scientists have peered into wombs with ultrasound and looked directly at sperm entering an egg, they’ve found that all the bright lines they thought existed dissolving.
The Quickening

Before ultrasounds and long before Roe v. Wade, it was obvious when life began. The “quickening,” the first time a woman felt her baby’s kick, was the moment the baby came alive, the moment it got a soul. When Henry VIII’s wife felt her quickening, it was cause for celebratory bonfires across London. In the 19th century, abortion in Britain was legal—until the quickening.

But the importance of the quickening—a concept that had been around since at least Aristotle—is now a relic. Before a mother can feel her baby kick, at around 20 weeks, she can already hear its heartbeat and see the blurry outline of its face with ultrasound. In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan explained his views on abortion by talking about seeing the bean shape of his unborn daughter on an ultrasound. He and his wife nicknamed her “Bean.” Ryan would later sponsor a bill for fetal personhood, which gives full legal rights to a zygote after fertilization.

In a way, science made possible the argument for fetal personhood. It’s only tenable because people can peer inside the womb, at one time a black box. Indeed, when American physicians began collecting humans embryos and charting embryonic development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they began considering fertilization as the beginning of fetal life. Around the same time, writes historian Sara Dubow in her book Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America, some physicians began to argue that abortion should be illegal. (Dubow declined to be interviewed for this story, citing concerns about being misquoted on abortion politics.)
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Cancer drug sharpens memory in rats - Futurity

Cancer drug sharpens memory in rats - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
A drug commonly used to treat cancer may be a way to sharpen memory, make it easier to learn a language, and even help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers say when they gave the drug RGFP966 to rats, it made them more attuned to what they were hearing and more able to retain and remember information. The rats were also able to develop new connections that allowed memories to be transmitted between brain cells.

Their findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“Memory-making in neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease is often poor or absent altogether once a person is in the advanced stages of the disease,” says Kasia M. Bieszczad, assistant professor of behavioral and systems neuroscience at Rutgers University. “This drug could rescue the ability to make new memories that are rich in detail and content, even in the worst case scenarios.”
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3D printing lets surgeons learn to carve ears - Futurity

3D printing lets surgeons learn to carve ears - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
When surgical residents need to practice a complicated procedure to fashion a new ear for children without one, they typically grab a bar of soap, carrot, or an apple.

To treat children with a missing or under-developed ear, experienced surgeons harvest pieces of rib cartilage from the child and carve them into the framework of a new ear. They take only as much of that precious cartilage as they need.

That leaves medical residents without an authentic material to practice on, as vegetables are a pale substitute. Some use pig or adult cadaver ribs, but children’s ribs are a different size and consistency.

Now, researchers have used 3D printing to create a low-cost pediatric rib cartilage model that more closely resembles the feel of real cartilage and allows for realistic surgical practice. The innovation could open the door for aspiring surgeons to become proficient in the sought-after but challenging procedure.

Their results are described in an abstract presented this week at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery conference in Dallas, Texas.
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Russian scientist says he is stronger and healthier after injecting himself with 'eternal life' bacteria

Russian scientist says he is stronger and healthier after injecting himself with 'eternal life' bacteria | The future of medicine and health |
If injecting yourself with 3.5 million-year-old bacteria could keep you looking and feeling youthful and healthy without having to fork out for a gym membership, would you do it?

Russian scientist Anatoli Brouchkov, head of the Geocryology Department at Moscow State University, is looking for the key to eternal youth.

He has therefore become a human guinea pig for some bacteria that could perhaps hold the key to longevity.

The bacteria,named Bacillus F, is amazing because it has remained alive in the permafrost for millions of years.

Scientists have tested it on mice and human blood cells, but this wasn't enough for Mr. Brouchkov, who decided to inject himself with it.

"I started to work longer, I've never had a flu for the last two years," he said. "After successful experiments on mice and fruit flies, I thought it would be interesting to try the inactivated bacterial culture," he told The Siberian Times.

He didn't think there would be a danger, as the bacteria is actually in trace amounts in the water of the region.

The scientist said: "'Besides, the permafrost is thawing, and I guess these bacteria get into the environment, into the water, so the local population, the Yakut people, in fact, for a long time are getting these cells with water, and even seem to live longer than some other nations. So there was no danger for me."
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Can a 10-minute walk erase 6 hours of sitting? - Futurity

Can a 10-minute walk erase 6 hours of sitting? - Futurity | The future of medicine and health |
Many office workers spend the majority of an eight-hour day sitting at their desks. New research suggests sitting for six straight hours can impair vascular function.

But walking for just 10 minutes can reverse the damage.

“It’s easy for all of us to be consumed by work and lose track of time, subjecting ourselves to prolonged periods of inactivity,” says Jaume Padilla, assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri.

“However, our study found that when you sit for six straight hours, or the majority of an eight-hour work day, blood flow to your legs is greatly reduced. We also found that just 10 minutes of walking after sitting for an extended time reversed the detrimental consequences.”
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A Genomics Revolution: Evolution by Natural Selection to Evolution by Intelligent Direction - Singularity HUB

A Genomics Revolution: Evolution by Natural Selection to Evolution by Intelligent Direction - Singularity HUB | The future of medicine and health |
Humanity is moving from evolution by natural selection (Darwinism) to evolution by intelligent direction.

For most of human history, our average age was only about 26 years old.

We would procreate at age 13, live just long enough to help our children raise their children, and then, on average, die at age 26 (so we were no longer taking food from the mouths of our grandchildren).

It was through technological innovation — sanitation and germ theory — that we moved life expectancy from 26 to the mid 50s. Recently, because of modern medicine's progress in treating heart disease and cancer, we've bumped up today's global average human lifespan to 71 years.

But this is just the beginning.

Advances over the next 10 to 15 years will move life expectancy north of 100.

This post is about advances in reading, writing, and building elements of the human body.
Reading – Sequencing the Human Genome

Your genome is the software that runs your body.

It is composed of 3.2 billion "letters," or base pairs, that code for everything that makes you "you" — your hair color, your height, your personality, your propensity to disease, your lifespan, and so on.

Until recently, it's been very difficult to rapidly and cheaply "read" these letters and even more difficult to understand what they do.

In 2001, my friend and Human Longevity Inc. co-founder Dr. J. Craig Venter sequenced the first complete human genome. It took about a year and cost $100 million.

Since then, the cost to sequence a genome has been plummeting exponentially, outpacing Moore's Law by almost 3x (take a look at the graph below).
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