This week, researchers from Canada and Scotland made a major advancement in the field of stem cell biology. They discovered a method to successfully reprogram somatic cells into stem cells without the use of viruses.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are a type of stem cells derived from adult somatic cells by forcing expression of genes shown to sufficiently reprogram somatic cells into stem cells. iPSCs have been shown to possess key characteristics of embryonic stem cells (ESCs), the most important of which is the ability to give rise to cells of all three germ layers. iPSCs are an ideal source of stem cells because they circumvent the need for human embryos to generate stem cells. Additionally, because they can be generated from one’s own somatic cells which are readily available, iPSCs can be used for patient-specific therapies, thereby reducing the risk of immune rejection.
Platelet Rich Plasma Treatment is making its way into the sports medical profession. It's pretty straight-forward and basically takes a person's own blood, separates the red blood cells and the plasma and takes the resultant concentration of platelets and injects them back into an injury site to promote quicker healing. Hines Ward's (Pittsburgh Steelers) recovery from a sprained medial collateral ligament in time to play in last month's Super Bowl brought attention to this new technique.
This type of treatment bodes well for faster healing from injury and possibly greater performance too but raises ethical questions in the world of professional sports.
One of the most exciting areas of 'Nano-bio' research is the engineered integration of 'wet' and 'dry' nanoscale systems that might revolutionize research in genetics and proteomics (Study of Proteins). But how do you explain this breaking down the barriers of biological and human-made systems? Through 3D animation videos on YouTube, of course!
There's no actual change in policy from the Obama administration on the stem cell front yet but some exciting things are happening and you can feel the pace picking up. In the past week Geron Technologies announced that they have received FDA clearance to put their GRNOPC1 into clinical human trials and researchers in Spain also announced that they had had success in treating lab rats with significant spinal injuries. While both studies have achieved impressive results in lab animals, a primary difference is that Geron uses embryonic stem cells to derive their hESC oligodendrocyte progenitor cells while the Spanish team used adult stem cells from tissue in the injured rats themselves to get their progenitor cells. Miodrag Stojkovic, who headed up the study done in Spain, said that "we need both adult and embryonic stem cells to understand our body and apply this knowledge in regenerative medicine."
It's worth noting that the success has come with injuries where the spinal cord has been traumatically compromised but not entirely severed. Also, the success in the rat recovery process has been demonstrated in injuries treated within 7-14 days of occurrence. Though there is hope that treatments will be derived for those whose injuries are older, rapid application seems to be key and has also been found effective in treating a variety of neural injuries including stroke and brain trauma.
Much has been made of Caloric Restriction (CR) and how it is the one true life-extension strategy currently available. In countless articles and videos it has been given much attention and there are a bunch of folks whose stomachs are growling as we speak that will be disappointed to learn that this strategy may be flawed.
A new study by Raj Sohal and Michael Forster recapped on EurekAlert! shows that CR is essentially only effective when "an animal eats more than it can burn off." The problem it seems is that it really only works for obese mice and has little or no benefit for those who aren't.
The study looked at two different genetically altered strains of mice - basically a fat mouse and a skinny mouse (I think this may have sitcom potential). The takeaway was that calorie restriction helped the mouse that had been programmed to double its weight over its lifespan while it did not extend the life of the skinny mouse. In fact, when CR is started later in life they found that it actually shortened the lifespans of leaner test subjects. The authors noted that previous studies have also demonstrated that wild mice experience minimal life-extension benefits from CR.
GE announced recently that they were partnering with the Transformational Medical Technology Initiative to develop the Biotic Man, a "physiologically based virtual human." The collaboration has the backing of the U.S. Dept. of Defense.
The Biotic Man will be based on computer modeling and has the potential to speed up the drug design process significantly. The project is aimed at providing a quicker response to biological threats on the battlefield and will advance the GE Physiologically Based Pharmacokinetic software tool. The tool employs computational models to measure drug response in the body far in advance of clinical trials.
The University of Michigan announced recently that they had made artificial bone marrow that can continuously make red and white blood cells. According to Nicholas Kotov, the PI of the lab, it uses 3D scaffolding that mimics the tissues that support bone marrow in the body.
In addition to possibly providing an inexhaustible source of blood for transfusions, which in and of itself would be great, it has the potential to simplify the pharmaceutical drug-testing process. As the world of discovery speeds up, the process of safely testing and bringing to market drugs and treatments in less than the standard 7-10 years is a difficult obstacle to overcome and one which is in great demand.
Improving the delivery of healthcare is arguably the greatest challenge facing the United States and the global community particularly with regards to aging populations. Next generation healthcare services also represent one of the largest growth sectors for applied information and communication technologies that improve access and quality while reducing costs for patients and healthcare institution.
Is Healthcare 2.0 preparing for prime time?
This notion of applying advanced technology systems is not new, but widespread applications might be much closer to mainstream adoption than is currently reported.
This notion of next generation healthcare services has been explored by a number of forward looking physicians such as Dr. S. Vincent Grasso who organized a recent symposium at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey titled: ‘Enhancing the Delivery of Healthcare Services to an Aging U.S. Population.
Among the many topics explored by experts were: forecasts of diseases common to aging populations, and solution platforms based on low cost video conferencing to connect Doctors, patients and families, commercialization of easy to use imaging and sensing systems for remotely based diagnosis equipment, standards for patient records, and healthcare facilities management.
Although camera pills have been around since 2001, Philips recently unveiled the next generation of swallowable gadgets. Called the iPill, it is able to deliver medicine to specific areas of the intestinal tract as well as measure the acidity levels of its environment. “In the form of an 11×26 mm capsule, the iPill incorporates a microprocessor, battery, pH sensor, temperature sensor, RF wireless transceiver, fluid pump and drug reservoir.” It’s also small enough to pass through your intestinal tract without causing any issues.
Although it determines its location by measuring PH levels (which is accurate enough already), Philips expects iPills to get more accurate when combined with medical imaging devices such as MRIs or CT scans. The iPill could come in especially handy when Crohn’s disease or colitis is involved — typical medicine for sufferers involve lots of steroids and has many adverse side-effects. The direct delivery of medicine with the iPill means medicine levels can be lower, reducing unpleasant side-effects.
Touch Bionics, a “leading developer of advanced upper-limb prosthetics” has just made Time’s list of Top 50 inventions of 2008 (coming it at #14).
What’s so amazing about this invention?
For starters, each finger is powered by its own motor. This allows the wearer to individually move their fingers for more accurate manipulation of objects. It’s made of a high-strength plastic resulting in a prosthetic that is lightweight as well as appealing to the eyes. Maintenance of the hand is also very simple. “The modular construction of the i-LIMB Hand means that each individually powered finger can be quickly removed by simply removing one screw. This means that a prosthetist can easily swap out fingers that require servicing and patients can return to their everyday lives after a short clinic visit.” This way you can still have use of the hand while part of it is getting repaired.
For those emergency situations where food might be scarce (or even destroyed by enemy fire) comes the Meal Ready to Take (MRT), a device loaded with enough food pills to sustain life for a week. Depress the top button for a full-sized meal.
Although we are told it time and again, not very many of us prepare for disasters. Likewise, soldiers in the field trust that they’ll have enough food in their backpack or vehicle to last them the duration of the mission. So how many water bottles do you have in your place in case of emergency? A half gallon at best? And food? It’s for this reason the MRT is essential to any disaster preparedness kit and in the field of battle.
Inside each pill is enough vitamins and nutrients to constitute about half a meal for a person on a 2,000 Calories a day diet. While it may not feel like you’re eating a meal due to the size (your stomach will still gnaw at itself), you’ll still notice a difference in your energy levels. Your stomach may be empty but your body is still getting the sustenance it needs to survive.
French scientists unveiled the world’s first fully functional artificial heart at the cost of about $192,000 a unit. The heart, which gets some of its design from modern aerospace research, consists of two pumps which help regulate flow.
The reason this is called the first fully functional artificial heart is that, unlike other hearts currently made, it comes equipped with sensors which can increase or decrease blood flow depending on the persons level of activity. “The same tiny sensors that measure air pressure and altitude in an airplane or satellite are also in the artificial heart. This should allow the device to respond immediately if the patient needs more or less blood.”(CNN) Current models require an outside regulator to adjust blood flow to the body (and only consist of one pump).