Rare Genetic Condition Keeps Amish From Aging

Since “you only live once” became every millennial’s official mantra, people have been on the hunt for the next health craze. Billionaires are sponsoring lab-grown meat experiments, while schools are encouraging students to try vegan lunch menus. Though diet and exercise are key to long living, an Amish community with anti-aging genes may give us some insight.

“For the first time we are seeing a molecular marker of aging (telomere length), a metabolic marker of aging (fasting insulin levels) and a cardiovascular marker of aging (blood pressure and blood vessel stiffness) all tracking in the same direction in that these individuals were generally protected from age-related changes.” [said researcher Douglas Vaughan.]

In short, members of the Amish kindred lacked a protein called PAI-1. Due to Amish locals’ genetic isolation, acquiring the mutation is almost always likely. Scientists are now testing a copycat drug on a control group.

“That was the gateway that could allow us to investigate the impact of a partial PAI-1 deficiency over a lifetime,” says Vaughan.

If the trials are successful, it may see improvements in diabetes research. Sufferers of chronic balding may even grow their hair back.

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Erasing Memories Associated With Fear Now Possible

In science nowadays, if you can dream it, you can believe it will exist within the next few decades. After all, mending a broken heart is no longer just a metaphor. If you were a fan of the 2004 hit “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, you’re in for a treat. Erasing memories associated with fear is now possible, thanks to professors at the University of California and a bunch of mice.

“Using low-frequency stimulations with light, we were able to erase the fear memory by artificially weakening the connections conveying the signals of the sensory cue – a high-pitch tone in our experiments – that are associated with the aversive event, namely, the foot shock.”

The technique is called optogenetics. Scientists use light to “edit” genetically modified brain cells until fear signals are wiped completely. After initial testing, mice with an initial fear of high-pitched noises no longer responded to triggers. Sadly, the method doesn’t apply to human brain cells. If you’re afraid of clowns, it’s unfortunately going to stay that way. The study itself, however, remains valuable.

“This study expands our understanding of how adaptive fear memory for a relevant stimulus is encoded in the brain,”

“It is also applicable to developing a novel intervention to selectively suppress pathological fear while preserving adaptive fear in PTSD.”

It may be a bummer, but considering the speed at which we develop new technologies, we may just have to wait a while longer.

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Nanochip Reprograms Skin Cells With One Touch

Science is constantly seeking ways to treat the human body — quickly and efficiently. We may be close to mastering the art of growing replacement organs but, for now, we rely on 3D printing. Still, every year we encounter new technologies that improve the way we approach illnesses. This impressive nanochip can reprogram skin cells in a single touch.

The new technique, called tissue nanotransfection, is based on a tiny device that sits on the surface of the skin of a living body. An intense, focused electric field is then applied across the device, allowing it to deliver genes to the skin cells beneath it – turning them into different types of cells.

In essence, compromised organs can be replaced by simply incorporating new genes. This is also the first technology that does not use a viral vector. Healing can occur as quickly as in a single week.

“With this technology, we can convert skin cells into elements of any organ with just one touch. This process only takes less than a second and is non-invasive, and then you’re off,”

Like most new technologies, nanotransfection still needs to undergo refinement in order to avoid rejection. Additionally, researchers predict using the technique on internal organs. Too good to be true? Let’s hope not.

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Gene Editing In Mice May Have Led To Paralysis Cure

Alongside scientists, mice have played a huge role in health-related breakthroughs. Since previously advancing diabetes research, mice have now led us to a potential cure for paralysis. In particular, gene editing has eliminated muscular dystrophy in mice.

The mice in the study have a rare and severe form of congenital muscular dystrophy known as MDC1A.

The illness is caused by a splice site mutation: a genetic error makes cellular messengers misread a critical section of DNA, like the scratch that makes a record skip.

Researchers in Cohn’s lab used CRISPR to cut out the scratch. Natural cell repair mechanisms stitched the remaining strands of DNA back together, allowing the whole genetic sequence to be read normally.

Follow ups proved that the participating mice were healed completely. The method is also simple, unlike other processes that require the engineering of an entirely new genome. However, as with all animal testing, researchers must carefully consider human trials.

For the first time it’s possible to think about — and this is still at the thinking stage, let’s be clear — the possibilities of gene correction in humans with these diseases,”

Considering that patients with muscular dystrophy rarely make it through their twenties, this could be the change they need. It may be a while, but gene editing holds much promise for the future.

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3D Printed Hearts Are Identical To Real Ones

 Gene harvesting has allowed for the possibility of growing replacement organs. However, it’s a lot easier said than done. A shortage of donors and genetic material mean we can’t just mass produce parts. But maybe we can 3D print them. Swiss researchers have recently proved 3D printed hearts can beat almost identically to real ones.

The silicone heart features left and right ventricles or chambers, just like a human heart, as well as an additional chamber that acts as the heart’s engine by driving the external pump.

It’s hoped this artificial version can eventually replace mechanical pumps, which are always at risk of failure or causing complications in the body.

With nearly 26 million people suffering from heart failure worldwide, this could be the answer to a pressing issue. The heart is made of silicone and can currently last 3,000 beats. While it’s not quite fit for replacement, it certainly is a promising start.

Meanwhile, earlier this year a team from Worcester Polytechnic Institute used spinach leaves to generate functioning heart tissue, complete with veins that could transport blood.

Looks like it’s going to be a favorable year for hearts.

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