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21st November 2016

Gut tissue grown from stem cells

Researchers have used human pluripotent stem cells to grow human intestinal tissues with functioning nerves, and then used these to recreate and study a severe intestinal nerve disorder.

 

gut tissue grown from stem cells

 

Gut tissue is highly complex, so is difficult to create in the lab. It has an inner layer that absorbs nutrients and secretes digestive enzymes, muscles that push food along its length, and nerves that coordinate muscle contractions.

However, researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center have achieved a breakthrough in creating lab-grown gut tissue. They report using human pluripotent stem cells to grow human intestinal tissues with functioning nerves and pulses like the real thing. They later used this tissue to recreate and study a severe intestinal nerve disorder called Hirschsprung's disease.

Published in the journal Nature Medicine, their findings describe an unprecedented approach to engineer and study tissues in the intestine – the body's largest immune organ, its food processor and main interface with the outside world. The study authors believe that medical science is now a step closer to using human pluripotent stem cells (which can become any cell type in the body) for regenerative medicine and growing patient-specific human intestines for transplant.

"One day, this technology will allow us to grow a section of healthy intestine for transplant into a patient – but the ability to use it now, to test and ask countless new questions, will help human health to the greatest extent," said Michael Helmrath, MD, co-lead study investigator.

This ability starts with being able to model and study intestinal disorders in functioning human organ tissue with genetically-specific patient cells. It will also allow researchers to test new therapeutics in functioning lab-grown human intestine before clinical trials in patients.

 

gut tissue stem cells future timeline
Human intestinal organoids with nerves. Credit: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

 

"Many oral medications give you diarrhoea, cramps and impair intestinal motility. A fairly immediate goal for this technology that would help the largest number of people is as a first-pass screen for new drugs to look for off-target toxicities and prevent side effects in the intestine," explained Jim Wells, PhD, co-lead investigator and director of the Pluripotent Stem Cell Facility at Cincinnati Children's.

"We tried a few different approaches largely based on the hypothesis that, if you put the right cells together at the right time in the petri dish, they'll know what to do. It was a longshot, but it worked," said Wells.

The appropriate mix caused enteric nerve precursor cells and intestines to grow together in a manner resembling developing fetal intestine. The result was the first evidence for generating complex and functional three-dimensional intestinal organoids in a petri dish, and fully derived from human pluripotent stem cells.

"This is one of the most complex tissues to have been engineered," said Wells, who explained that the gastrointestinal tract contains the second largest number of nerves in the human body. He and colleagues used their tissue to study a rare form of Hirschsprung's disease – a condition in which the rectum and colon fail to develop a normal nervous system. A severe form of Hirschsprung's is caused by a fault in the gene PHOX2B. Tests in a petri dish and mice demonstrated that mutating PHOX2B causes profound detrimental changes to innervated intestinal tissues.

Helmrath is now making and testing hollow tubes of the lab-grown tissue. These are 2 centimetres long, but if extended to 10 centimetres, they could make good transplants for short bowel syndrome, a condition that can affect premature babies.

As science continues to learn more about how important intestinal health is to overall health, using functioning lab-generated human intestine creates an array of new research opportunities, Wells and Helmrath said. This will include the ability to conduct deeper studies into nutritional health, diabetes, severe intestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease, and other biochemical changes in the body.

Their work is described today in the paper, Engineered human pluripotent-stem-cell-derived intestinal tissues with a functional enteric nervous system.

 

 

 

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20th November 2016

Researchers discover new antibiotics by sifting through the human microbiome

Scientists at Rockefeller University have identified which genes in a microbe's genome ought to produce antibiotic compounds and then synthesised those compounds to discover two promising new antibiotics.

 

new antibiotics 2016
Credit: Sean Brady

 

Most antibiotics in use today are based on natural molecules produced by bacteria, and given the rise of antibiotic resistance, there's an urgent need to find more of them. Yet coaxing bacteria to produce new antibiotics is a tricky proposition. Most bacteria won't grow in the lab. And even when they do, most of the genes that cause them to churn out molecules with antibiotic properties never get switched on.

Researchers at the Rockefeller University in New York have found a way around these problems, however. By using computational methods to identify which genes in a microbe's genome ought to produce antibiotic compounds and then synthesising those compounds themselves, they were able to discover two promising new antibiotics without having to culture a single bacterium.

The team, led by Sean Brady, head of the Laboratory of Genetically Encoded Small Molecules, began by trawling publicly available databases for the genomes of bacteria that reside in the human body. They then used specialised computer software to scan hundreds of those genomes for clusters of genes that were likely to produce molecules known as non-ribosomal peptides, which form the basis of many antibiotics. They also used the software to predict the chemical structures of the molecules that the gene clusters ought to produce.

The software initially identified 57 potentially useful gene clusters, which the researchers winnowed down to 30. Brady and his colleagues then used a method called solid-phase peptide synthesis to manufacture 25 different chemical compounds. By testing those compounds against human pathogens, the researchers successfully identified two closely related antibiotics, which they dubbed humimycin A and humimycin B. Both are found in a family of bacteria called Rhodococcus – microbes that had never yielded anything resembling the humimycins when cultured via traditional laboratory techniques.

 

Rhodococcus
Rhodococcus. Credit: Jerry Sims

 

The humimycins proved especially effective against Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria, which can cause dangerous infections in humans and tend to grow resistant to various antibiotics. Further experiments suggested that the humimycins work by inhibiting an enzyme that bacteria use to build their cell walls – and once that cell wall-building pathway is interrupted, the bacteria die.

A similar mode of action is employed by beta-lactams, a broad class of commonly prescribed antibiotics whose effect often wanes as bacteria develop ways to resist them. Yet the scientists found that one of the humimycins could be used to re-sensitise bacteria to beta-lactams that they had previously outsmarted.

In one experiment, they exposed beta-lactam resistant Staphylococcus microbes to humimycin A in combination with a beta-lactam antibiotic, and the bugs once again succumbed. Remarkably, that held true even when humimycin A had little effect by itself – a result that Brady attributes to the fact that both compounds work by interrupting different steps in the same biological pathway.

"It's like taking a hose and pinching it in two spots," explains Prof. Brady. Even if neither kink halts the flow altogether on its own, "eventually, no more water comes through."

To further test that proposition, Brady and his colleagues infected mice with a beta-lactam resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, a microbe that often causes antibiotic-resistant infections in hospital patients. Mice that were subsequently treated with a mixture containing both humimycin A and a beta-lactam antibiotic fared far better than those treated with only one drug or the other – a finding that could point towards a new treatment regimen for humans infected with beta-lactam resistant S. aureus.

Brady hopes that this discovery will inspire scientists to mine the genomes of bacteria for more molecules that could yield similarly useful results. And he looks forward to applying his methods to the many bacterial species beyond the human microbiome, which might harbour their own molecular treasures – not to mention the even greater number of bacteria whose genomes have not yet been sequenced, but that undoubtedly will be over time.

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13th November 2016

Lab-grown mini lungs successfully transplanted into mice

Scientists can now grow 3-D models of lungs from stem cells, creating new ways to study respiratory diseases.

 

lungs

Credit: Briana R Dye, Priya H Dedhia, Alyssa J Miller, Melinda S Nagy, Eric S White, Lonnie D Shea, Jason R Spence

 

Researchers at the University of Michigan have transplanted lab-grown mini lungs into immunosuppressed mice where the structures were able to survive, grow and mature.

"In many ways, the transplanted mini lungs were indistinguishable from human adult tissue," says senior study author Jason Spence, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at U-M Medical School.

The findings were published in eLife and described by authors as a potential new tool to study lung disease.

Respiratory diseases account for nearly 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, and lung cancer survival rates remain poor despite numerous therapeutic advances during the past 30 years. The numbers highlight the need for new, physiologically relevant models for translational lung research.

Lab-grown lungs can help because they provide a human model to screen drugs, understand gene function, generate transplantable tissue and study complex human diseases, such as asthma.

Lead study author Briana Dye, a graduate student in the U-M Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, used numerous signalling pathways involved with cell growth and organ formation to coax stem cells – the body's master cells – to make the miniature lungs.

The researchers' previous study showed mini lungs grown in a dish consisted of structures that exemplified both the airways that move air in and out of the body, known as bronchi, and the small lung sacs called alveoli, which are critical to gas exchange during breathing.

But to overcome the immature and disorganised structure, the researchers attempted to transplant the miniature lungs into mice, an approach that has been widely adopted in the stem cell field. Several initial strategies to transplant the mini lungs into mice were unsuccessful.

Working with Lonnie Shea, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, the team used a biodegradable scaffold, which had been developed for transplanting tissue into animals, to achieve successful transplantation of the mini lungs into mice. The scaffold provided a stiff structure to help the airway reach maturity.

"In just eight weeks, the resulting transplanted tissue had impressive tube-shaped airway structures similar to the adult lung airways," says Dye.

They characterised the transplanted mini lungs as well-developed tissue, possessing a highly organised epithelial layer lining the lungs. One drawback was that the alveolar cell types did not grow in the transplants. Still, several specialised lung cell types were present, including mucus-producing cells, multiciliated cells and stem cells found in the adult lung.

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13th November 2016

Machine learning can identify a suicidal person

Using a person's spoken or written words, a new computer algorithm identifies with high accuracy whether that person is suicidal, mentally ill but not suicidal, or neither.

 

brain words algorithm

 

A new study shows that technology known as machine learning is up to 93% accurate in correctly classifying a suicidal person and 85% accurate in identifying a person who has a mental illness but is not suicidal, or neither. These results provide strong evidence for using intelligent software as a decision-support tool to help clinicians and caregivers identify and prevent suicidal behaviour.

"These computational approaches provide novel opportunities to apply technological innovations in suicide care and prevention, and it surely is needed," explains John Pestian, PhD, professor in Biomedical Informatics & Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre and the study's lead author. "When you look around healthcare facilities, you see tremendous support from technology, but not so much for those who care for mental illness. Only now are our algorithms capable of supporting those caregivers. This methodology can easily be extended to schools, shelters, youth clubs, juvenile justice centres, and community centres, where earlier identification may help to reduce suicide attempts and deaths."

Pestian and his team enrolled 379 patients over the study's 18 month period – from emergency departments as well as inpatient and outpatient centres across three sites. Those enrolled included patients who were suicidal, diagnosed as mentally ill but not suicidal, or neither (serving as a control group).

Each patient completed standardised behavioural rating scales and participated in a semi-structured interview, answering five open-ended questions to stimulate conversation such as "Do you have hope?" "Are you angry?" and "Does it hurt emotionally?"

The researchers extracted and analysed both verbal and non-verbal language from the data. They then used machine learning algorithms to classify the patients into one of the three groups. Their results showed that machine learning algorithms could tell the difference between the groups with an accuracy of up to 93%. The scientists also noticed that the control patients tended to laugh more during interviews, sigh less, and express less anger, less emotional pain and more hope.

This software could become more and more useful in the future, as depression is expected to become the number one global disease burden by 2030. However, such intelligent algorithms may raise concerns over privacy and civil liberties, with potential for information to be abused. For example, authorities might use the software to spy on citizens as they communicate via email or social media, perhaps deciding from the data and wording style that a certain individual is dangerous and must be imprisoned, even if that person is actually innocent.

The study is published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

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12th November 2016

Graphic cigarette warnings could prevent 652,000 deaths over next 50 years

A study published in the journal Tobacco Control finds that graphic warnings on cigarette packs could prevent 652,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next 50 years.

 

cigarettes future timeline

 

Using prominent, graphic images on cigarette packs warning against the dangers of smoking could avert more than 652,000 deaths, up to 92,000 low birth weight infants, up to 145,000 preterm births, and about 1,000 cases of sudden infant deaths in the U.S. over the next 50 years, say researchers from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Their study, published online in the journal Tobacco Control, is the first to estimate the effects of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs on the health of both adults and infants in the U.S.

Although more than 70 nations have adopted or are considering adopting the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control to use such front and back of-the-pack warnings, they have not been implemented in the U.S. These pictorial warnings have been required by law, but an industry lawsuit has stalled implementation. Currently, a text-only warning appears on the side of cigarette packs in the U.S.

 

cigarettes text warning

 

The study used a tobacco control policy model, known as "SimSmoke", developed by Georgetown Lombardi's David T. Levy, PhD, which looks at the effects of past smoking policies, as well as future policies. SimSmoke is peer-reviewed, and has been used and validated in more than 20 countries.

In this study, Levy and his colleagues looked at changes in smoking rates in Australia, Canada and the UK, which have already implemented prominent pictorial warning labels (PWLs). Eight years after PWLs were implemented in Canada, there was an estimated 12 to 20 percent relative reduction in smoking prevalence. After PWLs began to be used in Australia in 2006, adult smoking prevalence fell from 21.3 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2008. After implementation in the UK during 2008, smoking prevalence fell 10 percent in the following year.

The researchers used these and other studies and, employing the SimSmoke model, estimated that implementing PWLs in the U.S. would directly reduce smoking prevalence in relative terms by 5 percent in the near term, increasing to 10 percent over the long-term. If implemented in 2016, PWLs are estimated to reduce the number of smoking attributable deaths (heart disease, lung cancer and COPD) by an estimated 652,800 by 2065.

"The bottom line is that requiring large pictorial warnings would help protect the public health of people in the United States," says Prof. Levy. "There is a direct association between these warnings and increased smoking cessation and reduced smoking initiation and prevalence. That would lead to significant reduction of death and morbidity, as well as medical cost."

As of today, 40 percent of cancers diagnosed in the U.S. may have a link to tobacco use, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is the leading preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths. Tobacco causes more than just lung cancer – based on current evidence, it can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, oesophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, rectum and a type of leukaemia. At least 70 chemicals found in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer, with exposure to second-hand smoke (aka passive smoking) also causing it. Cigarette smoking is estimated to result in $289 billion a year in medical costs and productivity loss. About 70% of all smokers want to quit – and if they do so before the age of 40, they can gain almost all of the 10 years of life expectancy they would otherwise have lost.

"There are more than 36 million smokers in the U.S.," says Tom Frieden, CDC Director. "Sadly, nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including 6 million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit."

New data released from the National Health Interview Survey shows that cigarette smoking among U.S. adults declined from 20.9 percent (45.1 million) in 2005 to 15.1 percent (36.5 million) in 2015. During 2014-2015 alone, there was a 1.7 percentage point decline, resulting in the lowest prevalence of adult cigarette smoking since the CDC's NHIS began collecting such data in 1965.

"When states invest in comprehensive cancer control programs – including tobacco control – we see greater benefits for everyone, and fewer deaths from tobacco-related cancers," said Lisa Richardson, director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. "We have made progress, but our work is not done."

 

cigarettes historical trend


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11th November 2016

Mouse neurons seen firing in real-time in 3-D

Scientists at Rockefeller University have used a technique called "light sculpting" to see the neurons of a mouse brain firing in real-time in 3-D.

 

3d mouse neurons

 

No single neuron produces a thought or a behaviour – anything the brain accomplishes is a vast collaborative effort between cells. When at work, neurons talk rapidly to each other, forming networks as they communicate. Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York are developing technology that would make it possible to record brain activity as it plays out across these networks. In research published by Nature Methods, they recorded the activity of mouse neurons layered in 3-D sections of brain as they signalled to each other in real time.

"The ultimate goal of our work is to investigate how large numbers of interconnected neurons throughout the brain interact in real time and how their dynamics lead to behaviour," says Alipasha Vaziri, Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Neurotechnology and Biophysics. "By developing a new method based on 'light sculpting' and using it to capture the activity of the majority of the neurons within a large portion of the cortex, a layered brain structure involved amongst others in higher brain function, we have taken a significant step in this direction."

This type of recording presents a considerable technical challenge because it requires tools capable of capturing short-lived events within individual cells, all while observing large volumes of brain tissue. Vaziri began working toward this goal about six years ago. His group first succeeded in developing a light-microscope–based approach to observing the activity in a 302-neuron roundworm brain, before moving on to the 100,000-neuron larval zebrafish. Their next target was the mouse brain, which is more challenging for two reasons: not only is it more complex, with 70 million neurons, but the rodent brain is also opaque, unlike the more transparent worm and larval fish brains.

To make the activity of neurons visible, they had to be altered. The researchers engineered the mice so their neurons could emit fluorescent light when they signalled to one another. The stronger the signal, the brighter the cells would shine. The system they developed had to meet competing demands – it needed to generate a spherically-shaped area, slightly smaller than the neurons and capable of exciting fluorescence from them. Meanwhile, it also had to move quickly enough to scan thousands of these cells in three dimensions as they fired in real time.

The team accomplished this using a technique called "light sculpting," in which short pulses of laser light – each lasting only a quadrillionth of a second – are dispersed into their coloured components. These are then brought back together to generate the "sculpted" excitation sphere. This sphere is scanned to illuminate the neurons within a plane, then refocused on another layer of neurons above or below, allowing neural signals to be recorded in three dimensions.

In this way, Vaziri and his colleagues recorded the activity in one-eighth of a cubic millimetre of the animal's brain cortex, a volume that represents the majority of a unit known as a cortical column. By simultaneously capturing and analysing the dynamic activity of the neurons within a cortical column, researchers think they might be able to understand brain computation as a whole. In this case, the section of cortex they studied is responsible for planning movement. They are currently working to capture the activity of an entire such unit.

"Progress in neuroscience, and many other areas of biology, is limited by the available tools," Vaziri says. "By developing increasingly faster, higher-resolution imaging techniques, we hope to be able to push the study of the brain into new frontiers."

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20th October 2016

Depression's physical source discovered

Researchers have discovered the physical source of depression in the human brain, which is found to affect the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, implicated in non-reward.

 

physical location of depression in the human brain

 

Understanding of the physical root of depression has been advanced, thanks to research by the University of Warwick, UK, and Fudan University, China. The study shows that depression affects the part of the brain which is implicated in non-reward – the lateral orbitofrontal cortex – so that sufferers of the condition feel a sense of loss and disappointment associated with not receiving rewards.

This area of the brain, which becomes active when rewards are not received, is also connected with the part of the brain involved in one's sense of self, thus potentially leading to thoughts of personal loss and low self-esteem. Depression is also associated with reduced connectivity between the reward brain area in the medial orbitofrontal cortex and memory systems in the brain, which may account for sufferers having less focus on happy memories.

These new discoveries could herald a breakthrough in treating depression, by going to the root cause of the illness, and helping depressed people to stop focussing on negative thoughts.

In this particularly large study, almost 1,000 people in China had their brains scanned using a high precision MRI, which analysed the connections between the medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex – the different parts of the human brain affected by depression. The study was carried out by Professor Edmund Rolls from Warwick, Professor Jianfeng Feng from Warwick and from Fudan University in Shanghai, Dr Wei Cheng from Fudan, and by other centres in China.

Depression is expected to overtake heart disease to become the leading global disease burden by 2030. Professor Jianfeng Feng comments on how it has become increasingly prevalent: "More than one in ten people in their lifetime suffer from depression, a disease which is so common in modern society and we can even find the remains of Prozac (a depression drug) in the tap water in London."

"Our finding, with the combination of big data we collected around the world and our novel methods, enables us to locate the roots of depression which should open up new avenues for better therapeutic treatments in the near future for this horrible disease," says Feng.

Professor Edmund Rolls looks forward to the new treatments the research could lead to: "The new findings on how depression is related to different functional connectivities of the orbitofrontal cortex have implications for treatments in the light of a recent non-reward attractor theory of depression."

The research, 'Medial reward and lateral non-reward orbitofrontal cortex circuits change in opposite directions in depression', is published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain.

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17th October 2016

Biotech firm to develop 3D bioprinted liver tissue for direct transplantation to patients

Organovo, a company focused on delivering scientific and medical breakthroughs using 3D bioprinting technology, has announced its plan to develop 3D bioprinted human liver tissue for direct transplantation to patients.

 

liver highlighted
© Yodiyim | Dreamstime.com

 

Organovo is announcing its program to develop 3D bioprinted human liver tissue based on the achievement of strong results in preclinical studies that used animal models. These demonstrated engraftment, vascularisation and sustained functionality of bioprinted liver tissue, including stable detection of liver-specific proteins and metabolic enzymes. The company expects to pursue this opportunity with a formal preclinical development program.

For patients in need of a liver transplant, no robust alternatives exist today. Approximately 17,000 patients are on the U.S. liver transplant waiting list, but only 6,000 liver transplants are performed each year.

Organovo plans to develop clinical solutions in two initial areas. First, acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) is a recognised and distinct orphan disease entity encompassing an acute deterioration of liver function in patients with liver disease, which affects 150,000 patients annually in the United States. Second, paediatric metabolic liver diseases are another orphan disease indication where a bioprinted liver tissue patch may show therapeutic benefits.

The total addressable market opportunity for these initial indication areas exceeds $3 billion. Assuming development progresses according to its plan, Organovo intends to submit an Investigational New Drug application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its therapeutic liver tissue in three to five years. Organovo will seek breakthrough therapy designation, clinical development outside the United States, and other opportunities to help accelerate time to market. The company will also present more detailed preclinical results at upcoming scientific conferences.

 

liver bioprinting
Credit: Organovo

 

"We're excited to introduce an implantable bioprinted liver tissue as the first preclinical candidate in our therapeutic tissue portfolio, and see the early results as extremely promising," said Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo. "The scientific and commercial progress we have already made with ExVive Human Liver Tissue in drug toxicity testing has given us a firm foundation upon which to build a larger tissue for transplant. Advancing our first therapeutic tissue into preclinical development is an important milestone for Organovo, and it speaks to the power of our technology platform in addressing multiple applications, including preclinical safety, disease modelling and tissue replacement products for surgical implantation. We believe that 3D bioprinted tissues have an opportunity to provide options for patients who suffer from liver disorders."

"Organovo's approach is designed to overcome many challenges that cell therapies and conventional tissue engineering have struggled to address – including limited engraftment and significant migration of cells away from the liver," said Eric Michael David, M.D., J.D., chief strategy officer and executive vice president of preclinical development. "In our preclinical studies, we deliver a patch of functional tissue directly to the liver, which integrates well, remains on the liver and maintains functionality. We believe our tissues have the potential to extend the lives of patients on liver transplant lists, or those who do not qualify for transplants due to other factors."

"Supply issues are a constant and growing challenge in transplant medicine and liver has the second highest transplant need among all organs," commented David A. Gerber, M.D., FACS, Professor of Surgery and Chief of Transplant Surgery, UNC School of Medicine. "New solutions in development, such as 3D bioprinted human tissues, have the potential to create tissues that could augment and extend organ function to give more time to those patients on transplant waiting lists. Moreover, we are continuing to push the boundaries and understand how to scale 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering to develop larger tissues."

"There are many conditions in areas such as liver, kidney, gastrointestinal, vascular, and lung disease where supplying a tissue patch may be curative, or bridge a patient a few more years before they need a transplant," said Dr. John Geibel, at Yale University. "The promise of 3D bioprinting human tissues to address these unmet needs is significant."

 

 

 

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13th October 2016

Playing golf can add five years to your life expectancy

Playing golf is likely to increase life expectancy, help prevent chronic diseases and improve mental health, a new study suggests.

 

golf life expectancy

 

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh reviewed 5,000 studies into golf to build a comprehensive picture of the sport’s health benefits, as well as its potential drawbacks. They found it can significantly improve both physical and mental health for people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Furthermore, it was shown that these improvements are of particular help to seniors, as the benefits of playing golf increase with age. Balance and muscle endurance, for example, can be enhanced in older people.

Golfers playing a regular round of 18 holes can walk four to eight miles, typically burning a minimum of 500 calories – easily enough to reach and exceed the minimum government recommendations for exercise. Even those using an electric cart were found to average four miles of walking. In addition to the obvious physical benefits, golf can significantly improve mental health and well-being – increasing exposure to sunshine and fresh air, while reducing the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia.

In one of the studies they analysed, the researchers noted a 40% reduction in mortality rates among 300,000 members of the Swedish Golf Federation, corresponding to an increase in life expectancy of about five years.

"The moderate physical activity that golf provides increases life expectancy, has mental health benefits, and can help prevent and treat more than 40 major chronic diseases, such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer," says Dr Andrew Murray, lead author and researcher for the Golf & Health Project at the University of Edinburgh. "Evidence suggests golfers live longer than non-golfers, enjoying improvements in cholesterol levels, body composition, wellness, self-esteem and self-worth. Given that the sport can be played by the very young to the very old, this demonstrates a wide variety of health benefits for people of all ages."

However, there were also a number of risks found to be associated with playing golf – such as lightning strikes, and accidents involving carts. Golf was found to be the sport with the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the US, while more than 15,000 golf cart-related injuries were reported a year.

Their study is published online this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

 

 

 

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6th October 2016

Scientists calculate the upper limit of human lifespan

Gains in the maximum human lifespan reached a plateau in the 1990s, according to researchers. They report that the absolute physical limit of human lifespan is 125 years.

 

human aging lifespan

 

A study published yesterday in Nature by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine suggests that it may not be possible to extend the human lifespan beyond the ages already attained by the oldest people on record.

Since the 19th century, average life expectancy has risen almost continuously – thanks to improvements in public health, diet, living standards and other areas. On average, for example, U.S. babies born today can expect to live to nearly 79, compared with only 47 for those born in 1900. Since the 1970s, the maximum duration of life – the age to which the oldest people live – has also risen. But according to the Einstein College researchers, this upward arc for maximal lifespan has a ceiling: and we've already touched it.

"Demographers, as well as biologists, have contended there is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum lifespan will end soon," said senior author Jan Vijg, Ph.D., professor and chair of genetics. "But our data strongly suggest that it has already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s."

Dr. Vijg and his colleagues analysed data from the Human Mortality Database, which compiles mortality and population data from more than 40 nations. Since 1900, those countries generally show a decline in late-life mortality: the fraction of each birth cohort (i.e. people born in a particular year) who survive to old age (defined as 70 and up) increased with their calendar year of birth, pointing toward a continuing increase in average life expectancy.

But when the researchers looked at survival improvements since 1900 for people aged 100 and above, they found that gains in survival peaked at around 100 and then declined rapidly, regardless of the year people were born. "This finding indicates diminishing gains in reducing late-life mortality and a possible limit to human lifespan," said Dr. Vijg.

He and his colleagues then looked at "maximum reported age at death" data from the International Database on Longevity. They focused on people verified as living to age 110 or older between 1968 and 2006 in the four countries (the U.S., France, Japan and the U.K.) with the largest number of long-lived individuals. Age at death for these supercentenarians increased rapidly between the 1970s and early 1990s, but reached a plateau around 1995 – further evidence for a lifespan limit. This plateau, the researchers note, occurred close to 1997 – the year of death for 122-year-old French woman, Jeanne Calment, who achieved the maximum documented lifespan of any person in history.

Using maximum-reported-age-at-death data, the Einstein researchers put the average maximum human lifespan at 115 years – a calculation allowing for record-oldest individuals occasionally living longer or shorter than 115 years (Jeanne Calment, they conclude, was a statistical outlier). Finally, they calculate 125 years as the absolute limit of human lifespan. Expressed another way, this means the probability in any given year of seeing a person live to 125 anywhere in the world is less than 1 in 10,000.

"Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy – but not maximum lifespan," says Dr. Vijg. "While it's conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we've calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan. Perhaps resources now being spent to increase lifespan should instead go to lengthening healthspan – the duration of old age spent in good health."

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6th October 2016

Caffeine may reduce the risk of dementia

A study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee shows that caffeine consumption may cut the risk of dementia in older women by 36%.

 

coffee

 

Among a group of older women, self-reported caffeine consumption of more than 261 mg per day was associated with a 36 percent reduction in the risk of incident dementia over 10 years of follow-up. This level is equivalent to two to three 8-oz cups of coffee per day, five to six 8-oz cups of black tea, or seven to eight 12-ounce cans of cola.

"The mounting evidence of caffeine consumption as a potentially protective factor against cognitive impairment is exciting given that caffeine is also an easily modifiable dietary factor with very few contraindications," said Ira Driscoll, PhD, the study's lead author and a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "What is unique about this study is that we had an unprecedented opportunity to examine the relationships between caffeine intake and dementia incidence in a large and well-defined, prospectively-studied cohort of women."

The findings come from participants in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, which is funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Driscoll and her research colleagues used data from 6,500 community-dwelling, postmenopausal women aged 65 and older who reported some level of caffeine consumption. Intake was estimated from questions about coffee, tea, and cola beverage intake, including frequency and serving size.

In 10 years or less of follow-up with annual assessments of cognitive function, 388 of these women received a diagnosis of probable dementia or some form of global cognitive impairment. Those who consumed above the median amount of caffeine for this group (with average intake of 261 mg per day) were diagnosed at a lower rate than those who fell below the median (with an average intake of 64 mg per day). The researchers adjusted for risk factors such as hormone therapy, age, race, education, body mass index, sleep quality, depression, hypertension, prior cardiovascular disease, diabetes, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

The paper "Relationships Between Caffeine Intake and Risk for Probable Dementia or Global Cognitive Impairment: The Women's Health Initiative Memory Study" is available at: http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/09/20/gerona.glw078

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3rd October 2016

Measles has officially been eradicated from the Americas

The Region of the Americas is the first in the world to have officially eliminated measles, a viral disease that can cause severe health problems including pneumonia, brain swelling and even death. This achievement culminates a 22-year effort involving mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the Americas.

 

 

 

The declaration of measles' elimination was made by the International Expert Committee for Documenting and Verifying Measles, Rubella, and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas. The announcement came during the 55th Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), attended by ministers of health from throughout the region.

Measles is the fifth vaccine-preventable disease to be eliminated from the Americas, after the regional eradication of smallpox in 1971, polio in 1994, and rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in 2015.

"This is a historic day for our region and indeed the world," said Carissa Etienne, PAHO/WHO Director. "It is proof of the remarkable success that can be achieved when countries work together in solidarity towards a common goal. It is the result of a commitment made more than two decades ago, in 1994, when the countries of the Americas pledged to end measles circulation by the turn of the 21st century."

Before mass vaccination was initiated in 1980, measles caused nearly 2.6 million annual deaths worldwide. In the Americas, 101,800 deaths were attributed to the disease between 1971 and 1979. A cost-effectiveness study on measles elimination in Latin America and the Caribbean has estimated that with vaccination, 3.2 million measles cases will have been prevented in the region and 16,000 deaths between 2000 and 2020.

"This historic milestone would never have been possible without the strong political commitment of our Member States in ensuring that all children have access to life-saving vaccines," Etienne continued. "It would not have been possible without the generosity and commitment of health workers and volunteers who have worked so hard to take the benefits of vaccines to all people – including those in vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities."

 

measles vaccination
Credit: Pan American Health Organisation

 

Measles transmission had been considered interrupted in the region since 2002, when the last endemic case was reported in Venezuela. However, as it continued to circulate in other parts of the world, some countries in the Americas experienced imported cases, with over 5,000 reported infections between 2003 and 2014. The Expert Committee reviewed evidence presented by all the countries of the region between 2015 and August 2016 and decided that it met the established criteria for elimination. This process included six years of work with countries to document evidence of the elimination.

As a result of worldwide measles elimination efforts, only 245,000 measles cases were reported globally in 2015, a substantial decline from earlier years. More than a half of these reported cases were in Africa and Asia. To maintain measles elimination, the Expert Committee have recommended that all countries of the Americas strengthen active surveillance and maintain their populations' immunity through routine vaccination.

"I would like to emphasise that our work on this front is not yet done," warned Etienne. "We cannot become complacent with this achievement but must rather protect it carefully. Measles still circulates widely in other parts of the world, and so we must be prepared to respond to imported cases. It is critical that we continue to maintain high vaccination coverage rates, and it is crucial that any suspected measles cases be immediately reported to the authorities for rapid follow-up."

Under the WHO's Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles will be wiped out by 2020 everywhere except Southeast Asia. Humanity is clearly winning the fight against this particular virus.

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