The activity of a "sleep node" in the mammalian brain appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep, say researchers.
Scientists have identified a second “sleep node” in the mammalian brain whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep. The sleep-promoting circuit located deep in the primitive brainstem reveals how we fall into deep sleep. Published online in Nature Neuroscience, the study demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem. The brainstem is a primordial part of the brain that regulates basic functions necessary for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. “The close association of a sleep center with other regions that are critical for life highlights the evolutionary importance of sleep in the brain,” says study coauthor Caroline E. Bass, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, remains the oldest person on record. One might assume that she led a faultless, healthy lifestyle. Not at all. Every year on her birthday, as her celebrity grew, journalists flocked to her house in the south of France to ask her for the secret to a long life. One year she reportedly replied that it was because she stopped smoking when she turned 100.
In addition to smoking for most of her life, Madame Calment was also fond of Port wine and chocolate (more than two pounds of chocolate a week). She’s not the only one. Studies have failed to find healthy lifestyle choices to be the common thing between centenarians. As Nir Barzilai, who studies healthy Jewish centenarians, put it: “It’s not the yogurt.”
Instead, scientists have discovered that longevity is prevalent in certain families and the focus is now on discovering the genes, or the DNA instructions, that favour a long, healthy life.
In animals like mice, flies and roundworms, scientists have discovered a remarkable impact of genes on the ageing process. Hundreds of tiny instructions in the genome have been found to regulate longevity. In nematode worms, a mutation on the daf-2 gene can lead to a doubled, but still healthy lifespan. In tiny roundworms, the current record is a subtle change in the age-1 gene that extends lifespan ten-fold. If this could be applied to humans, it would mean people living more than 1,000 years.
Life-extension effects from genetic engineering, however, tend to be more modest in mammals, though there is still evidence of health benefits. In mice, mutating the growth hormone receptor gene, which is crucial for regulating growth and cell proliferation, results in dwarf animals that not only live 40% longer than normal but are protected from age-related diseases, like cancer, and exhibit a later onset of degenerative changes. In this example, it’s like the whole mammalian ageing process is retarded by changing a single gene.
With a typical lifespan of around six weeks, the common fruit fly is one animal that could benefit from a slowing of the aging process. And that's just what a team of biologists at UCLA have achieved by activating a gene called AMPK. Possibly of more interest to us higher life forms is the researchers' belief that the discovery could help delay aging and age-related diseases in humans.
AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) is an enzyme that acts as a metabolic master switch and is activated in response to low cellular energy levels. It has previously been shown to activate a cellular process known as autophagy, which protects against aging by enabling cells to degrade and discard old, damaged "cellular garbage" before it damages cells. Although AMPK is also found in humans, it is not usually activated at a high level.
The UCLA research team found that increasing the amount of AMPK in the intestines of common fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) increased their lifespan by around 30 percent, up from the typical six weeks to around eight weeks. Importantly, the fruit flies stayed healthier for longer as well, with the beneficial effects not restricted to the organ where it was activated.
"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," said David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research.
"A really interesting finding was when Matt (lead author of the study, Matthew Ulgherait) activated AMPK in the nervous system, he saw evidence of increased levels of autophagy in not only the brain, but also in the intestine,” adds Walker. "And vice versa: Activating AMPK in the intestine produced increased levels of autophagy in the brain – and perhaps elsewhere, too."
Europe's €1-billion science and technology project needs to clarify its goals and establish transparent governance, say Yves Frégnac and Gilles Laurent.
Launched in October 2013, the Human Brain Project (HBP) was sold by charismatic neurobiologist Henry Markram as a bold new path towards understanding the brain, treating neurological diseases and building information technology. It is one of two 'flagship' proposals funded by the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies programme (see go.nature.com/icotmi). Selected after a multiyear competition, the project seemed like an exciting opportunity to bring together neuroscience and IT to generate practical applications for health and medicine (see go.nature.com/2eocv8).
Contrary to public assumptions that the HBP would generate knowledge about how the brain works, the project is turning into an expensive database-management project with a hunt for new computing architectures. In recent months, the HBP executive board revealed plans to drastically reduce its experimental and cognitive neuroscience arm, provoking wrath in the European neuroscience community.
The crisis culminated with an open letter from neuroscientists (including one of us, G.L.) to the European Commission on 7 July 2014 (see www.neurofuture.eu), which has now gathered more than 750 signatures. Many signatories are scientists in experimental and theoretical fields, and the list includes former HBP participants. The letter incorporates a pledge of non-participation in a planned call for 'partnering projects' that must raise about half of the HBP's total funding. This pledge could seriously lower the quality of the project's final output and leave the planned databases empty.
With the initial funding, or 'ramp-up', phase now in full swing, the European Commission is currently evaluating the HBP directors' plan for the larger second part of the project. This offers an opportunity to introduce reforms and reconciliation. Here, we offer our analysis of how the HBP project strayed off course and how it might be steered back.
Stanford Bioengineer Christina Smolke has been on a decade-long quest to genetically alter yeast so they can brew opioid medicines in stainless steel vats,
Stanford bioengineers have hacked the DNA of yeast, reprograming these simple cells to make opioid-based medicines* via a sophisticated extension of the basic brewing process that makes beer.
Led by Associate Professor of Bioengineering Christina Smolke, the Stanford team has already spent a decade genetically engineering yeast cells to reproduce the biochemistry of poppies, with the ultimate goal of producing opium-based medicines, from start to finish, in fermentation vats.
“We are now very close to replicating the entire opioid production process in a way that eliminates the need to grow poppies, allowing us to reliably manufacture essential medicines while mitigating the potential for diversion to illegal use,” said Smolke, who outlines her work in the August 24 edition of Nature Chemical Biology.
Smolke added five genes from two different organisms to yeast cells. Three of these genes came from the poppy itself, and the others from a bacterium that lives on poppy plant stalks.
Scientists can now monitor and record the activity of hundreds of neurons concurrently in the brain, and ongoing technology developments promise to increase this number manyfold. However, simply recording the neural activity does not automatically lead to a clearer understanding of how the brain works.
5,000 patients died last year from healthcare-associated infections (HAI) in the United States. The culprit is usually unwashed hands.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 75,000 patients died last year from healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in the United States. It’s consistently ranked as one of ten leading causes of death. HAIs are defined as infections that patients contract after they’ve been admitted—that is, the patient arrives at the hospital with one ailment, and then picks up a new infection during his stay. Those preventable infections cost hospitals around $30 billion in added costs a year.
The culprit is usually unwashed hands. Studies vary, but show that on average hospital workers only wash their hands between 10 and 50 percent of the time they enter or exit a patient room. That number, of course, is supposed to be 100 percent. When harried hospital workers forget to wash their hands and move from, say, a sick patient to a surgery, bacteria can travel with them. Unfortunately, “the problem is invisible,” says Brent Nibarger, chief client officer at Biovigil Hygiene Technologies. “The bacteria and things that get transported, you can’t see it. We often say if the bugs glowed orange or green or yellow you could solve this more powerfully.”
Bacteria might not emit flashes of color, but a gadget can. This summer, Biovigil rolled out their first product: a sensor-laden electronic badge that uses traffic-light language—red, yellow, and green flashing lights—to hold doctors accountable for hand-hygiene.
Although there's presently no cure for cluster headaches, a new neurostimulator is claimed to help control them. While they may not be quite as well-known as migraines, cluster headaches are even more painful, and can occur several times a day. There's presently no cure, although a new "neurostimulator" is claimed to help control them. A US clinical trial of the device has just begun, with a test subject recently having had one implanted beneath his cheekbone.
Developed by San Francisco-based Autonomic Technologies Inc (ATI), the "almond-sized" device was inserted through a 2-cm (0.8-in) incision in the recipient's gum, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Anchored to the skull under the cheekbone, on the side of the face affected by the headaches, the implant works by stimulating the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG). This is a nerve bundle located behind the nose, and it's associated with the transmission of the headache pain. Past approaches have included permanently cutting or chemically burning the SPG.
When a patient feels a cluster headache coming on, they place a separate handheld controller against their cheek. It wirelessly activates the neurostimulator, which in turn blocks the pain signals sent via the SPG. The controller is preprogrammed by the patient's physician, to provide a length and level of stimulation that's appropriate to their particular condition.
There are numerous research efforts underway to develop new treatments and improve the lives of people suffering type 2 diabetes, whose ranks have increased dramatically in recent decades due in large part to the so-called obesity epidemic. A new generation of safer and more effective diabetes drugs could be in the offing with researchers at the Salk Institute discovering that when mice with diet-induced diabetes were given a single injection of a protein, their blood sugar levels were restored to a healthy range for more than two days.
Although type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed through a healthy diet and regular exercise in the initial stages, tablets that boost the body's production of insulin are generally prescribed as the disease progresses. Such tablets can have side effects, including nausea and diarrhea, and aren't suitable for everyone, such as pregnant women and those with severe liver, kidney or heart disease. They can also cause blood glucose levels to drop too low, potentially resulting in hypoglycemia.
Now Salk researchers have found that injecting obese mice with the equivalent of type 2 diabetes in humans with a single dose of protein FGF1 quickly restored their blood glucose levels to normal levels where they remained for more than two days. Importantly, even when given high doses, the mice suffered none of the side effects common to most current diabetes treatments, such as weight gain or heart and liver problems.
Mice lacking a specific protein (TRAP-1) live longer lives with fewer age-related illnesses, such as tissue degeneration, obesity, and spontaneous tumor formation, when compared with normal mice, researchers at The Wistar Institute have...
Study with Duke and Stanford Universities aims to revolutionise treatment of disease through the study of healthy people. By Samuel Gibbs
Google’s latest project from its Google X “moonshot” division is every bit as ambitious as some of its robotics and communications projects like Glass.
Google wants to map how the human body behaves when it’s healthy, which could dramatically improve modern medicine.
What are they doing?
The Baseline study is a scientific investigation into what it means to be healthy. It will collect data from healthy individuals, crunch the numbers and define a healthy state for a human being from real-world people.
Why study the healthy?
Why study someone who isn’t sick? Modern medicine is good at treating diseases with obvious symptoms. But at the point at which a disease is showing symptoms severe enough to send someone to the doctor, the disease has been running wild within that person’s body for a good while.
By defining a baseline of what it means to be healthy, it is a lot easier to detect changes and pick up serious, life-threatening diseases before they become dangerous. Catching illness much earlier can either diminish the impact or neutralise the disease before symptoms appear.
Who's being studied?
Google’s study will initially take 175 volunteers from various groups of ethnicity, habit and area and conduct testing of methods and practices to inform a much larger study later on. That small select group of people is expected to expand to around 400 or so by the end of the year.
The U.S. liver organ wait list has grown rapidly, while the number of organ donors has stagnated --- but the true need is almost 10x larger than the official
Organ-a collective initiative for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine — announced today (Oct. 16) the initial six teams competing for the $1 million New Organ Liver Prize, a global prize competition launched in December 2013 and sponsored by the Methuselah Foundation, a biomedical charity.
The award will go to “the first team that creates a regenerative or bioengineered solution that keeps a large animal alive for 90 days without native liver function,” with a deadline of the end of 2018. Future challenge prizes will cover additional whole organs.
The six teams represent scientists* from Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research, University College of London, University of Florida, University of Oxford, University of Pittsburgh, and Yokohama City University. More teams will be announced in the future.
“We need to make people as valuable as cars,” New Organ Founder and Methuselah CEO David Gobel told KurzweilAI. “Right now, there are no parts for people except from ‘junk yards’ from crash victims.” He said the choice of the liver makes sense because it’s “most likely to regenerate itself; it’s relatively homogenous; and it’s a key item in toxicity studies, extremely well characterized.
“This is an engineering problem. The more people who try, the more solutions.” Gobel mentioned vascularization (forming and maintaining blood vessels while preventing clotting) as a key problem (a solution for kidneys was mentioned on KurzweilAI last week).
Gizmag recently caught up with Team Aezon members Krzysztof Sitko and Neil Rens for an in-depth discussion of their finalist entry to the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. The competition aims to stimulate advances in the field of diagnostic equipment, with the incentive of a US$10 million prize purse. Such technology has the potential to revolutionize the speed and accuracy with which a diagnosis can be made outside of a hospital environment.
Earlier this month, 10 of the most promising teams were chosen to advance to the November 2015 final of the Tricorder XPRIZE. Criteria for the competition requires that the team's tricorder be capable of monitoring key health metrics such as blood pressure and respiratory rate, and have the ability to accurately diagnose 15 core conditions. Just to make this a little tougher on the competitors, the winning tricorder must be simple enough to be used unaided by the average consumer. Team Aezon's tricorder is comprised of three key elements: the Arc, the Lab Box and a smartphone app through which the information captured by the diagnostic equipment is presented.
Team Aezon intends to collect the health metrics needed for the competition through an unobtrusive piece of wearable tech known as the Arc.
"We were experimenting with different places to measure vital signs because we thought that people wouldn't want to have multiple devices," explains Sitko, co-founder of Aegle, the startup responsible for designing the sleek vitals-monitoring device. "We found ourselves gravitating towards the neck as the best compromise of the different requirements."
I wrote a story recently about a cool technique called optogenetics, developed by bioengineering professor Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD. He won the Keio Prize in Medicine, and I thought it might be interesting to talk with some other neuroscientists at Stanford to get their take on the importance of the technology. You know something is truly groundbreaking when each and every person you interview uses the word “revolutionary” to describe it.
Optogenetics is a technique that allows scientists to use light to turn particular nerves on or off. In the process, they’re learning new things about how the brain works and about diseases and mental health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, addiction and depression.
In describing the award, the Keio Prize committee wrote:
By making optogenetics a reality and leading this new field, Dr. Deisseroth has made enormous contributions towards the fundamental understanding of brain functions in health and disease.
One of the things I found most interesting when writing the story came from a piece Deisseroth wrote several years ago in Scientific American in which he stressed the importance of basic research. Optogenetics would not have been a reality without discoveries made in the lowly algae that makes up pond scum.
“The more directed and targeted research becomes, the more likely we are to slow our progress, and the more certain it is that the distant and untraveled realms, where truly disruptive ideas can arise, will be utterly cut off from our common scientific journey,” Deisseroth wrote.
Deisseroth told me that we need to be funding basic, curiosity-driven research along with efforts to make those discoveries relevant. He said that kind of translation is part of the value of programs like Stanford Bio-X – an interdisciplinary institute founded in 1998 – which puts diverse faculty members side by side to enable that translation from basic science to medical discovery.
A new class of synthetic platelet-like particles could give doctors a new option for curbing surgical bleeding and addressing certain blood clotting disorders without the need for transfusions of natural platelets.
Based on soft and deformable hydrogel materials, the clotting particles are triggered by the same factor that initiates the body’s own clotting processes. Tests conducted in animal models and in a simulated circulatory system suggest they are effective at slowing bleeding and can safely circulate in the bloodstream.
The particles have been tested with human blood, but have not undergone clinical trials in humans.
“When used by emergency medical technicians in the civilian world or by medics in the military, we expect this technology could reduce the number of deaths from excessive bleeding,” says Ashley Brown, a research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology and first author of a paper describing the research published in Nature Materials.
“If EMTs and medics had particles like these that could be injected and then go specifically to the site of a serious injury, they could help decrease the number of deaths associated with serious injuries.”
What's the price on your integrity? Tell the truth; everyone has a tipping point. We all want to be honest, but at some point, we'll lie if the benefit is great enough. Now, scientists have confirmed the area of the brain in which we make that decision, using advanced imaging techniques to study how the brain makes choices about honesty.
What's the price on your integrity? Tell the truth; everyone has a tipping point. We all want to be honest, but at some point, we'll lie if the benefit is great enough. Now, scientists have confirmed the area of the brain in which we make that decision.
The result was published online this week in Nature Neuroscience.
"We prefer to be honest, even if lying is beneficial," said Lusha Zhu, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral associate at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where she works with Brooks King-Casas and Pearl Chiu, who are assistant professors at the institute and with Virginia Tech's Department of Psychology. "How does the brain make the choice to be honest, even when there is a significant cost to being honest?"
Previous studies have shown that brain areas behind the forehead, called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex, become more active during functional brain scanning when a participant is told to lie or to be honest.
But there's no way to know if those parts of the brain are engaged because an individual is lying or because he or she prefers to be honest, King-Casas said.
This time, researchers asked a different question.
"We asked whether there's a switch in the brain that controls the cost and benefit tradeoff between honesty and self-interest," Chiu said. "The answer to this question will help shed light on the nature of honesty and human preferences."
Researchers compared the decisions of healthy participants with decisions made by participants with damaged dorsolateral prefrontal cortices or orbitofrontal cortices.
The team, including scientists from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and the University of California at Berkeley, had volunteers decide between honesty and self-interest in an economic "signaling game," which has been extensively studied in behavioral economics, game theory, and evolutionary biology.
In one game, the researchers presented participants with an option that gave them more money at a cost to an anonymous opponent, and an option that gave the opponent more money at a cost to the participant. Unsurprisingly, participants chose the option that filled their own pockets.
In a different game, the researchers presented participants with the same options and but asked the participants to send a message to their opponents, recommending one option over the other. The participants either lie and reap the reward, or tell the truth and suffer a loss.
In January of this year, the first subject checked into the metabolic ward at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, to participate in one of the most rigorous dietary studies ever devised. For eight weeks, he was forbidden to leave. He spent two days of each week inside tiny airtight rooms known as metabolic chambers, where scientists determined precisely how many calories he was burning by measuring changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air. He received meals through vacuum-sealed portholes so that the researchers' breath wouldn't interfere with their measurements. The food itself had been chemically analyzed to ensure an exact number of carbohydrate, protein, and fat calories.
The two-day stays in the chambers were only a small part of the testing, which was also being carried out on subjects at three other institutions around the US. Twice a month, the subjects were required to lie down for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry scans, an accurate way to measure body fat. They offered up their veins again and again so that scientists could measure their lipids and hormone levels. They provided samples of their stools so the researchers could record the different colonies of bacteria residing in their guts.
And yet for all the poking, prodding, measuring, and testing, the most remarkable thing about the $5 million undertaking may be that it's designed to answer a question you'd think we'd have answered long ago: Do we get fat because we overeat or because of the types of food we eat? The Energy Balance Consortium Study, as it's called, is one of the first to be backed by the Nutrition Science Initiative, a nonprofit that prides itself on funding fanatically careful tests of previously overlooked hypotheses. NuSI (pronounced new-see) was launched in September 2012 by crusading science journalist Gary Taubes and former physician and medical researcher Peter Attia. The three NuSI studies now under way, which focus on establishing the root causes of obesity and its related diseases, provide just a glimpse of Taubes and Attia's sweeping ambition. NuSI has already raised more than $40 million in pledges and is in the midst of a $190 million, three-year campaign to fund a new round of studies that will build off the findings in the initial research. Together, the studies are intended as steps toward an audacious goal: cutting the prevalence of obesity in the US by more than half—and the prevalence of diabetes by 75 percent—in less than 15 years.
Inside the weird and hopeful world of cryonics surgery
In 1972 Max More saw a children’s science fiction television show called Time Slip that featured characters being frozen in ice. He didn’t think much about it until years later, when he started hanging out with friends who held meetings about futurism. “They were getting Cryonics magazine,” he says, “and they asked me about it to see how futuristic I was. It just made sense to me right away.”
More is now the president and chief executive officer of Alcor, one of the world’s largest cryonics companies. More himself has been a member since 1986, and has decided to opt for neuropreservation—just deep freezing the brain—over whole body preservation. “I figure the future is a pretty decent place to be, so I want to be there,” he says. “I want to keep living and enjoying and producing.”
Cryopreservation is a darling of the futurist community. The general premise is simple: Medicine is continually getting better. Those who die today could be cured tomorrow. Cryonics is a way to bridge the gap between today’s medicine and tomorrow’s. “We see it as an extension of emergency medicine,” More says. “We’re just taking over when today’s medicine gives up on a patient. Think of it this way: Fifty years ago if you were walking along the street and someone keeled over in front of you and stopped breathing you would have checked them out and said they were dead and disposed of them. Today we don’t do that, instead we do CPR and all kinds of things. People we thought were dead 50 years ago we now know were not. Cryonics is the same thing, we just have to stop them from getting worse and let a more advanced technology in the future fix that problem.”
The combination of nanojuice and photoacoustic tomography illuminates the intestine of a mouse (credit: Jonathan Lovell) University at Buffalo researchers
University at Buffalo researchers are developing a new imaging technique using nanoparticles suspended in liquid to form “nanojuice” that patients would drink to help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal illnesses.
Doctors would strike the nanoparticles, once they reach the small intestine, with a harmless laser light, providing an unparalleled, non-invasive, real-time view of the organ.
Described July 6 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the advancement could help doctors better identify, understand, and treat gastrointestinal ailments.
Researchers have linked eating baked or broiled fish with brain health later in life—but say it's not about the omega-3 fatty acids.
The findings, published online in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, add to growing evidence that lifestyle factors contribute to brain health later in life.
Scientists estimate that more than 80 million people will have dementia by 2040, which could become a substantial burden to families and drive up health care costs, according to senior investigator James T. Becker, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Some studies have predicted that lifestyle changes such as a reduction in rates of physical inactivity, smoking, and obesity could lead to fewer cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions of cognitive impairment in the elderly.
The antioxidant effect of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high amounts in fish, seeds, and nuts, and certain oils, also have been associated with improved health, particularly brain health.
A universal blood test screening for cancer is the goal of a lab at the University of Bradford, reducing unneeded and expensive biopsies.
Although many dread the prick of a blood test, most would find it a preferable testing method to invasive and expensive biopsies. That's why a blood test for cancer is the goal of many research efforts, including one at the University of Bradford in the UK, where researchers are claiming to have devised a simple universal blood test for the disease that relies on the fact that white blood cells in cancer patients are already damaged from battling cancerous cells.
"White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defense system," says Professor Diana Anderson, who led the research. "We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measurable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light."
To put her theory to the test, the University of Bradford team used a comet assay, which involves exposing DNA to UV light and applying an electric field to induce it to travel through an agar medium. The more damaged the DNA, the more elongated its comet-like tail, as the structure is no longer as tightly compressed together.
"We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people," says Anderson. "So the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA – the genome – in a cell."