The plight of Sarah Murnaghan made headlines over the past several weeks. The 10-year-old girl suffers from cystic fibrosis, a crippling respiratory ailment. She was dying, but she was deemed ineligible—then, after an uproar, eligible—for an adult lung transplant. She received a new set of lungs on June 12.
At issue were rules set forth by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the non-profit that manages the national organ waiting list. It requires that the sickest children younger than 12 get priority for lungs donated from children younger than 12. Children age 12 and younger are eligible for lungs donated from 12- to 17-year-olds only after potential recipients between 12 and 17 have declined them. Lungs donated by adults are initially offered to all candidates older than 12.
Part of the rationale behind the “under 12 rule,” established in 2005 by the Organ Procurement Transplant Network, which is managed by UNOS, is that lungs from an adult would be too large for a child’s body. (There are no age-based cutoffs for transplanting organs other than lungs. The lobar structure of the liver makes it easier to reduce. Adult kidneys can be placed inside a child’s roomy abdominal cavity. But hearts must fit anatomical constraints.)
The age rule was also devised to compensate for a lack of good data for those under the age of 12. All lung transplant candidates over 12 are assigned a “lung allocation score” that reflects both the seriousness of a patient’s medical status and the likelihood of a successful operation. This score, in addition to blood type and the geographic distance between the candidate and the hospital with the lung donor, determines wait-list priority for receiving adult lungs. Patients under 12 are not assigned an LAS because the number of children in need of lung transplants is so small as to make statistical modeling difficult.
Obsessive-compulsive mice exhibit a defective grooming response during a conditioning task (credit: Eric Burguière et al./Science) By applying
By applying optogenetics (light stimulation) to specific neurons in the brain, researchers at INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) have re-established normal behavior in mice with pathological repetitive behavior similar to that observed in human patients suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Repetitive obsessive-compulsive disorders can become a real handicap to daily life (for example, washing hands up to 30 times a day; or checking excessively that a door is locked, etc.). Obsessive-compulsive disorders affect 2 to 3% of the population and in France, it is estimated that over one million persons are affected by this disorder.
The usual treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorders is to use pharmacological treatments (anti-depressants, neuroleptics) and/or behavioral psychotherapy. They don’t work in around one third of patients.
So it is necessary to gain better understanding of the cerebral mechanisms that cause these repetitive behavior patterns in order to provide better treatment.
Previous neuroimaging studies allowed the INSERM scientists to identify dysfunctional neuron circuits located between the front of the brain (the orbitofrontal cortex) and more deep-seated cerebral structures (ganglions at the base on the brain), in certain persons suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders.
In this new study, Eric Burguière and his co-workers (in the laboratory of Prof. Ann Graybiel in MIT) concentrated their research on this neuron circuit to examine its function in detail and also to develop an approach to treating obsessive-compulsive disorders in a mutant mouse model.
You may not make it to 116 like Japan's Jiroemon Kimura, but longevity expert Dan Buettner has some tips for reaching a ripe old age.
The oldest man ever known to have lived—Japan's Jiroemon Kimura—died Wednesday at 116. Kimura, who was born April 19, 1897, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest living person, oldest living man, and oldest man ever.
"As the only man to have ever lived for 116 years—and the oldest man whose age has been fully authenticated—he has a truly special place in world history," Craig Glenday, editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, said on its website.
Misao Okawa, 115, of Osaka, Japan, now holds the title of oldest living person, as well as oldest living woman.
Though most of us won't make it to 116, National Geographic Fellow and longevity expert Dan Buettner has discovered tips on reaching old age through his work on blue zones—pockets of longevity around the world.
In his second edition of his book The Blue Zones, Buettner writes about a newly identified Blue Zone: the Greek island of Ikaria (map). National Geographic magazine Editor at Large Cathy Newman interviewed him in December about the art of living long and well. (Watch Buettner talk about how to live to a hundred.)
A silicon circuit, coated with a protective layer and immersed in fluid that mimicks human body chemistry. Photo courtesy of Ohio State University. Bio
Biosensors and implantable medical devices of the future will have to live in a climate that’s hostile to traditional silicon-based electronic circuits. Although silicon is biocompatible, our salty bodies are too conductive and interfere with bare silicon circuits. Plus, as with any other implants, there are concerns of material’s immunogenicity and toxicity.
Researchers at Ohio State University have demonstrated a new coating made of aluminum oxide that can encapsulate silicon circuits to keep them dry from the electrolytes in bodily fluids. The coating is currently patent pending and researchers believe that it will soon find application in medicine, most notably in sensors that detect early signs of transplant organ rejection.
Tissue-engineered heart valve (credit: HIA/Wikimedia Commons) Professor György K.B. Sándor believes that tissue engineering can become a new global export
Professor György K.B. Sándor believes that tissue engineering can become a new global export item.
Sándor specializes in oral and maxillofacial surgery, and does research on bone regeneration, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, tissue engineering, and stem cells.
The goal of his research at the University of Tampere in Finland is to produce bone and cartilage using tissue engineering and to optimize the use of tissue-derived stem cells for bone defects.
With tissue engineering, it is possible to produce tailored, living human spare parts. If the method can be rolled out on a larger scale, it may become the third alternative form of treatment alongside the traditional forms, surgery and pharmacotherapy.
“Tissue-derived stem cells can be isolated from the patient’s own tissue. In that way, they will not cause a rejection reaction. Compared to tissue stem cells, human embryonic stem cells have a greater ability to differentiate into different cell types. In practice, it means that all cell types can be used,” Sándor says.
“At the moment, expertise in the field is concentrated in Finland, but it has also generated global interest in other medically advanced countries,” says Sándor.
In the near future, it is possible that larger numbers of patients will travel to Finland to receive treatment. Sándor believes that as forms of treatment develop, expertise can also be exported abroad to be used on a larger scale.
Sándor works at the BioMediTech research institute run by the University of Tampere and the Tampere University of Technology. BioMediTech is an innovation center that combines biomedicine and technology.
“We have proven with more than 20 clinically successful operations that tissue engineering works,” Sándor says.
FiDiPro (The Finland Distinguished Professor Programme) is a joint funding program of the Academy of Finland and Tekes. FiDiPro enables top researchers, both international and expatriates, to work in Finland for a fixed period of time.
Medical centers are testing new, friendly ways to reduce the need for office visits by extending their reach into patients’ homes.
Most patients who enter the gym of the San Mateo Medical Center in California are there to work with physical therapists. But a few who had knee replacements are being coached by a digital avatar instead.
The avatar, Molly, interviews them in Spanish or English about the levels of pain they feel as a video guides them through exercises, while the 3-D cameras of a Kinect device measure their movements. Because it’s a pilot project, Paul Carlisle, the director of rehabilitation services, looks on. But the ultimate goal is for the routine to be done from a patient’s home.
“It would change our whole model,” says Carlisle, who is running the trial as the public hospital looks for creative ways to extend the reach of its overtaxed budget and staff. “We don’t want to replace therapists. But in some ways, it does replace the need to have them there all the time.”
Receiving remote medical care is becoming more common as technologies improve and health records get digitized. Sense.ly, the California startup running the trial, is one of more than 500 companies using health-care tools from Nuance, a company that develops speech-recognition and virtual-assistant software. “Our goal is basically to capture the patient’s state of mind and body,” says Ivana Schnur, cofounder of Sense.ly and a clinical psychologist who has spent years developing virtual-reality tools in medicine and mental health.
New sensor technology could make it possible to diagnose and monitor diabetes through a breath analysis alone, researchers say.
Diabetes patients often receive their diagnosis after a series of glucose-related blood tests in hospital settings, and then have to monitor their condition daily through expensive, invasive methods.
Even before blood tests are administered, people with diabetes often recognize the condition’s symptoms through their breath acetone—a characteristic “fruity” odor that increases significantly during periods of glucose deficiency. Researchers were interested in this biomarker as a possible diagnostic tool.
“Once patients are diagnosed with diabetes, they have to monitor their condition for the rest of their lives,” says Alexander Star, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Current monitoring devices are mostly based on blood glucose analysis, so the development of alternative devices that are noninvasive, inexpensive, and provide easy-to-use breath analysis could completely change the paradigm of self-monitoring diabetes.”
Clinicians at Duke University Hospital are some of the first to implant a bioengineered blood vessel into a human patient. The vein was developed by Duke
The surgery is part of a larger phase 1 clinical trial on 20 patients with end-stage renal disease that Duke researchers are spearheading. The vessels are being implanted into the arms of the subjects to help with performing hemodialysis, and the researchers will be closely following up to analyze the safety and durability of the new grafts.
AMES, Iowa – A series of studies conducted by an Iowa State University research team shows that it is possible to manipulate an existing memory simply by suggesting new or different information. The key is timing and recall of that memory, said Jason Chan, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State.
“If you reactivate a memory by retrieving it, that memory becomes susceptible to changes again. And if at that time you give people new contradictory information, that can make the original memory much harder to retrieve later,” Chan said.
One of the major findings from the studies, published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the impact on declarative memory – a memory that can be consciously recalled and verbally described, such as what you did last weekend. The effects are powerful because people are retrieving memory and then incorporating new information. Chan and Jessica LaPaglia, a graduate student at Iowa State, tested the impact of new information when presented at different time intervals after the retrieval of the original memory.
If it was immediate, the memory could be altered. However, there was no effect on the original memory when the information was presented 48 hours later. Chan said based on other studies, it appears there is a six-hour window before the memory is reconsolidated after recall and cannot be altered. Likewise, they found no effect if the information was presented in a different context than the original memory.
“During that reconsolidation period, that’s when the memory is easy to be interfered with. Once that window closes and that memory is stable again, if you get new information it should not interfere with that original memory,” Chan said. “We found support for that idea in a number of experiments in which we varied the delay between the interfering memory or the misinformation and when people took that initial test.”
Bioelectronics is the field of developing medicines that use electrical impulses to modulate the body's neural circuits as an alternative to drug-based interventions. How far away are we from having these very targeted "electroceuticals"?
Five severely disabled stroke patients show signs of recovery following the injection of stem cells into their brain.
Prof Keith Muir, of Glasgow University, who is treating them, says he is "surprised" by the mild to moderate improvements in the five patients.
He stresses it is too soon to tell whether the effect is due to the treatment they are receiving.
The results will be presented at the European Stroke Conference in London.
Commenting on the research, Dr Clare Walton of the Stroke Association said: "The use of stem cells is a promising technique which could help to reverse some of the disabling effects of stroke. We are very excited about this trial; however, we are currently at the beginning of a very long road and significant further development is needed before stem cell therapy can be regarded as a possible treatment."
The stem cells were created 10 years ago from one sample of nerve tissue taken from a foetus. The company that produces the stem cells, Reneuron, is able to manufacture as many stem cells as it needs from that original sample.
It is because a foetal tissue sample was involved in the development of the treatment that it has its critics.
Among them is anti-abortion campaigner Lord Alton. "The bottom line is surely that the true donor (the foetus) could not possibly have given consent and that, of course, raises significant ethical considerations," he said.
Reneuron says the trial - which it funded - has ethical approval from the medicine's regulator. It added that one tissue sample was used in development 10 years ago and that foetal material has not been used since.
Rhodiola rosea (golden root) is a plant in the Crassulaceae family that grows in cold regions of the world (credit: Wikimedia Commons).
The herbal extract of a yellow-flowered mountain plant long used for stress relief was found to increase the lifespan of fruit fly populations by an average of 24 percent, according to UC Irvine researchers.
But it’s how Rhodiola rosea, also known as golden root, did this that grabbed the attention of study leaders. They discovered that Rhodiola works in a manner completely unrelated to dietary restriction and affects different molecular pathways.
This is significant, said Mahtab Jafari, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, because dietary restriction is considered the most robust method of improving lifespan in laboratory animals, and scientists have been scrambling to identify compounds that can mimic its effects.
“We found that Rhodiola actually increases lifespan on top of that of dietary restriction,” Jafari said. “It demonstrates that Rhodiola can act even in individuals who are already long-lived and healthy. This is quite unlike resveratrol, which appears to only act in overfed or unhealthy individuals.”
The researchers proved this by putting flies on a calorie-restricted diet. It has been shown that flies live longer when the amount of yeast they consume is decreased. Jafari and Schriner expected that if Rhodiola functioned in the same manner as dietary restriction, it would not work in these flies. But it did. They also tested Rhodiola in flies in which the molecular pathways of dietary restriction had been genetically inactivated. It still worked.
Not only did Rhodiola improve lifespan an average of 24 percent in both sexes and multiple strains of flies, but it also delayed the loss of physical performance in flies as they aged and even extended the lives of old flies. Jafari’s group previously had shown that the extract decreased the natural production of reactive oxygen species molecules in the fly mitochondria and protected both flies and cultured human cells against oxidative stress.
The researchers are not claiming that Rhodiola supplements will enable humans to live longer, but their discovery is enhancing scientific understanding of how supplements believed to promote longevity actually work in the body.
Rhodiola has already shown possible health benefits in humans, such as decreasing fatigue, anxiety and depression; boosting mood, memory and stamina; and preventing altitude sickness. Grown in cold climates at high elevations, the herb has been used for centuries by Scandinavians and Russians to reduce stress. It’s also thought to have antioxidant properties.
Jafari’s research group is currently exploring the plant’s potential to kill cancer cells, improve Alzheimer’s disease and help stem cells grow.
Rhodiola is readily available online and in health food stores. Jafari, though, has analyzed several commercial products and found them to not contain sufficient amounts of the reputed active compounds, such as rosavin and salidroside, that characterize high-quality products.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health. Study results appear online in PLOS ONE (open access)
subcircle/Flickr The importance of sleep is perhaps most realized when we become sick. When we are hospitalized and most in need of every ounce of health, though, hospital care practically guarantees that we won't get good sleep.
A protein that allows eels to glow may also find use in detecting liver problems in humans.
Just about any sushi-lover knows what unagi is – it’s eel, or more specifically, the Japanese freshwater eel Anguilla japonica. What those people might not know, however, is that the eel glows green in the dark. Now, it looks like the protein that allows the fish to do so could also help doctors to assess human liver function.
Led by Drs. Atsushi Miyawaki and Akiko Kumagai, a team at Japan’s Riken Brain Science Institute have dubbed the protein UnaG, standing for Unagi Green protein. The first known fluorescent protein to be found in a vertebrate, UnaG only fluoresces when combined with naturally-occurring bilirubin present in the eels’ muscles.
When it comes to antioxidants, more is not always better.
LAST month, Katy Perry shared her secret to good health with her 37 million followers on Twitter. “I’m all about that supplement & vitamin LYFE!” the pop star wrote, posting a snapshot of herself holding up three large bags of pills. There is one disturbing fact about vitamins, however, that Katy didn’t mention.
Derived from “vita,” meaning life in Latin, vitamins are necessary to convert food into energy. When people don’t get enough vitamins, they suffer diseases like scurvy and rickets. The question isn’t whether people need vitamins. They do. The questions are how much do they need, and do they get enough in foods?
Nutrition experts argue that people need only the recommended daily allowance — the amount of vitamins found in a routine diet. Vitamin manufacturers argue that a regular diet doesn’t contain enough vitamins, and that more is better. Most people assume that, at the very least, excess vitamins can’t do any harm. It turns out, however, that scientists have known for years that large quantities of supplemental vitamins can be quite harmful indeed.
In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1994, 29,000 Finnish men, all smokers, had been given daily vitamin E, beta carotene, both or a placebo. The study found that those who had taken beta carotene for five to eight years were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease.
Bioengineers are a step closer to growing new cartilage from a patient’s own stem cells.
Cartilage injuries are difficult to repair. Current surgical options generally involve taking a piece from another part of the injured joint and patching over the damaged area, but this approach involves damaging healthy cartilage, and a person’s cartilage may still deteriorate with age.
“The broad picture is trying to develop new therapies to replace cartilage tissue, starting with focal defects—things like sports injuries—and then hopefully moving toward surface replacement for cartilage degradation that comes with aging,” says Jason Burdick, associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. “Here, we’re trying to figure out the right environment for adult stem cells to produce the best cartilage.”
“As we age, the health and vitality of cartilage cells declines,” says Robert Mauck, associate professor of orthopedic surgery, “so the efficacy of any repair with adult chondrocytes is actually quite low. Stem cells, which retain this vital capacity, are therefore ideal.”
Simply asking people whether they experienced an event can trick them into later believing that it did occur, according to a neat little study just out: Susceptibility to long-term misinformation effect outside of the laboratory
Psychologists Miriam Lommen and colleagues studied 249 Dutch soldiers were deployed for a four month tour of duty in Afghanistan. As part of a study into PTSD, they were given an interview at the end of the deployment asking them about their exposure to various stressful events that had occurred. However, one of the things discussed was made up – a missile attack on their base on New Year’s Eve.
At the post-test, participants were provided new information about an event that did not take place during their deployment, that is, a (harmless) missile attack at the base on New Year’s Eve.
We provided a short description of the event including some sensory details (e.g., sound of explosion, sight of gravel after the explosion). After that, participants were asked if they had experienced it…
Eight of the soldiers reported remembering this event right there in the interview. The other 241 correctly said they didn’t recall it, but seven months later, when they did a follow-up questionnaire about their experiences in the field, 26% said they did remember the non-existent New Year’s Eve bombardment (this question had been added to an existing PTSD scale.)
Susceptibility to the misinformation was correlated with having a lower IQ, and with PTSD symptom severity.
False memory effects like this one have been widely studied, but generally only in laboratory conditions. I like this study because it used a clever design to take memory misinformation into the real world, by neatly piggybacking onto another piece of research.
Also, it’s interesting (and worrying) that the false information was presented in the context of a question, not a statement. It seems that merely being asked about something can, in some cases, lead to memories of having experienced that thing.
The media is full of stories about the amazing properties of smart drugs. But you could be putting your brain at risk, warns David Cox
Modafinil has emerged as the crown prince of smart drugs, that seductive group of pharmaceutical friends that promise enhanced memory, motivation, and an unrelenting ability to focus, all for hours at a time.
In the absence of long-term data, the media, particularly the student media, has tended to be relaxed about potential side-effects. The Oxford Tab, for example, simply shrugs: Who cares?
The novelist MJ Hyland, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, wrote a paean to the drug in the Guardian recently – understandably, for her, any potential side-effects are worth the risk given the benefits she's experienced.
But should stressed students, tempted by a quick fix, be worried about what modafinil could be doing their brains in the long term?
Professor Barbara Sahakian, at the University of Cambridge, has been researching modafinil as a possible clinical treatment for the cognitive problems of patients with psychosis. She's fascinated by healthy people taking these drugs and has co-authored a recent book on the subject.
"Some people just want the competitive edge – they want to do better at exams so they can get into a better university or get a better degree. And there's another group of people who want to function the best they can all the time. But people have also told me that they've used these drugs to help them do tasks that they've found not very interesting, or things they've been putting off."
Salt levels in processed and fast foods remain dangerously high, despite calls for the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium levels, new research shows.
For a study, researchers assessed the sodium content in selected processed foods and in fast-food restaurants in 2005, 2008, and 2011 and found sodium content is as high as ever.
“The voluntary approach has failed,” says Stephen Havas, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The study demonstrates that the food industry has been dragging its feet and making very few changes. This issue will not go away unless the government steps in to protect the public. The amount of sodium in our food supply needs to be regulated.”
Excess sodium prematurely kills as many as 150,000 people in the US each year. About 90 percent of the US population develops high blood pressure and high salt in the diet is a major cause. High blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart attacks and strokes, often resulting in death or disability.
“High salt content in food benefits the food industry,” Havas says. “High salt masks the flavor of ingredients that are often not the best quality and also stimulates people to drink more soda and alcohol, which the industry profits from.”
A typical American consumes an average of almost two teaspoons a day of salt, vastly higher than the recommended amount of three-fifths of a teaspoon or no more than 1,500 milligrams, as recommended by the American Heart Association. About 80 percent of our daily sodium consumption comes from eating processed or restaurant foods. Very little comes from salt we add to food.
“The only way for most people to meet the current sodium recommendation is to cook from scratch and not use salt,” Havas says. “But that’s not realistic for most people.”
Women who consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day—regardless if consumed in food or supplements—may live longer, new research suggests.
Calcium, an essential nutrient for bone health, is commonly found in dairy products as well as vitamins. Despite calcium’s health benefits, past studies have linked calcium supplements to heart disease risk.
The researchers analyzed data from the large-scale Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos) seeking to determine whether calcium and vitamin D intake were associated with overall increased risk of death. The research is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.