Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chronic Stress, Chronic Infections, and Telomeres

Ouroborus has an interesting post looking at the telomere-shortening effect of chronic infections and chronic stress.
Chronic stress has been associated with decreased telomere length in lymphocytes. The association is robust and has been observed in multiple studies, including one that looked at stress in addition to other risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), so it appears that lymphocyte telomeres are a useful biomarker for some convolution of age and lifetime stress level. The question still remains, however, whether the relationship is correlative or causative.

...To the extent that telomere shortening is a causative force in aging (an idea consistent with correlative data showing an association between critically short telomeres and extreme old age, and bolstered by evidence that telomere length is a heritable determinant of lifespan), this study implies that infection itself contributes to the aging process, at least within the hematopoietic lineage — and that we already have one biomarker, just a PCR away from a peripheral blood sample, to measure the extent of that contribution. __Ouroborus
The article discusses a study that appears to strengthen the connection between infection and telomere shortening.

Geron and other research groups have studied telomerase with the intent of blocking the enzyme in cancer, but also with the possibility that a telomerase form or analog might be useful in regenerating senescent cells.

Until science can separate the connection between cancer and old age, progress on this front may be slow. Then again, breakthroughs often occur just when you'd given up hope.


Monday, May 26, 2008

New Polymer Cell Organelles Hold Promise for Cell Repair and Rejuvenation

New research from the University of Basel offers the hope of replacing or supplementing an aging or dysfunctional cells organelles with polymer replacements. The Swiss researchers were able to upgrade human cells in a petri dish, using the polymer organelles.
The artificial organelle's membrane can be chemically tuned to control which chemicals can pass through it and regulate the reactions inside, according to Wolfgang Meier, one of the researchers. "We call it a 'nanoreactor'," he says...At 200 nanometres across, the organelles are 400 times smaller in width than a human hair.

...Artificial organelles might .. be able to treat conditions caused by a deficit of a particular enzyme. For example, someone with lactose intolerance could have their digestive cells given artificial organelles containing lactose-digesting enzymes.

In the far future, it might be possible to introduce non-human metabolic functions into human cells. "We could, in principle, bring in a nanoreactor that [lets] your skin do something like photosynthesis. So if you are hungry, you just lie in the Sun," says Meier. __NS_via_Kurzweilai.net
These polymer organelles are reminiscent of the polymer "red blood cells" invented by Joseph DeSimone at the University of North Carolina.
He has created tiny sacks of the polymer polyethylene glycol just 8 micrometres across – in the range of human red blood cells – that are capable of deforming in a way that allows them to pass through the tiniest capillaries.

Polyethylene glycol is biologically benign, but binds easily with other substances, which makes it ideal for carrying cargo through the blood, says DeSimone.

For example, a haemoglobin-type molecule carried inside the bag could deliver oxygen to the body and carry away carbon dioxide. The bags could also deliver drugs instead, or help as contrast agents for scans such as magnetic resonance imaging, PET or ultrasound. __NS_suggested by Will Brown
The ability to create tiny organs and organelles to replace malfunctioning or deficient human cells and cell components offers a more profound level of therapy than medical practice has been accustomed to. Over time, a more full array of uses for these polymer replacements will no doubt be devised.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Aging 2008 at UCLA

The Methuselah Foundation announces "Aging2008" at UCLA Friday June 27th.
The speakers at Aging 2008 will argue that the near-term consequences of intense research into regenerative medicine could be the development of therapies that extend healthy human life by decades, even if the therapies are applied in middle age. Peter Thiel, president of Clarium Capital, initial investor in Facebook, and lead sponsor of Aging 2008, said, "The time has come to challenge the inevitability of aging. This forum will provide an excellent opportunity to look at the scientific barriers that must be overcome to substantially extend healthy human life, as well as the sociological implications of doing so."

Aging 2008 also serves as the free opening session for the technically focused Understanding Aging Conference, which will run at UCLA on June 28th and 29th.

What: Aging: The Disease, The Cure, The Implications, hosted by Methuselah Foundation

When: Friday, June 27, 2008, Drinks 4pm, Presentations 5pm, Dinner 8pm

Where: Royce Hall, 405 Hilgard Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024 __Source

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Canadian Neuro-Arm Robot Surgeon Precision

To achieve radically longer lives, we will need to engineer ourselves to be more resilient to damage and disease, but we will always need the ability to intervene safely with radical surgical tools.

Canadian researchers developed the Neuro-Arm robot, a robot compatible of MRI imaging so that a surgeon can operate on a tumour with real-time feedback.
A surgeon is able to control the robot using levers at a computer workstation in a room next to the surgery. Sutherland said human ability to manipulate robotic surgery techniques can be credited, at least in part, to the explosion in popularity of video games.

"We would all agree that our young children who have become immersed in video games represent the future generation of surgeons," he said. "[They] will be experienced in the integration of hand controllers with images and …will have enhanced hand-eye co-ordination with highly developed spatial orientation."

The technology works in conjunction with real-time magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to provide surgeons with unprecedented detail and the control to manipulate tools at a microscopic scale for operations ranging from repairs of blood vessels to removal of brain tumours. __Source
The successful MRI-guided removal of a brain tumour in Calgary by Neuro-Arm suggests that robotic surgeons will gain more and more use over time.

Even if our bodies are modified to last for hundreds of years, we will always be subject to accidents and "break-through disease" which is somehow resistant to our life extension programming. In those situations, we will need the best medical and surgical care possible.

In the new robo-surgeons, we can see the nascent form of a future "robo-doc" that is capable of operating far from human medical experts. If humans are to be able to travel and live in the remotest outposts of our solar system, we will necessarily have communities inaccessible to the full range of highly trained human specialists. In such situations, robotic surrogates will be a vital part of the team.


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