Ouroboros: Research in the biology of aging)
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. Do stress and other lifestyle factors
somehow cause shortened telomeres, or are the two phenomena
otherwise-unrelated indications of some common underlying
One of the “trivial” explanations for a causative relationship,
usually advanced by critics who aren’t particularly impressed by
the initial findings, is that stressed-out or otherwise unhealthy
people are more vulnerable to infection than their serene, healthy
counterparts. Chronic infection requires increased production of
lymphocytes, which overworks the stem cell compartment from which
these cells are derived; increased cell divisions leads to
decreased telomere length — a perfectly satisfactory explanation
for the observation.
If that is true, then chronic infection in the absence of
lifestyle risk factors should cause telomere shortening on its own
(let’s stipulate for the moment that stress increases
susceptibility to disease, an idea supported by my own anecdotal
experience of college finals). Ilmonen et
al. have demonstrated that this is indeed the case, at
least in mouse: (cont.)
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.
How will this affect me?
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed an electronic nose which not only can sense pre-programmed scents, but also create categories for new scents it finds. “Much like people detect and remember many different smells and use that knowledge to generalize about smells they haven’t encountered before, the electronic nose also needs to be trained to recognize the chemical signatures of different smells before it can deal with unknowns.” The hope is that these devices would be able to warn people of disease, biological attacks, or even aiding in space exploration (yes, searching for other life).
Just imagine the implications a device like this could have on the regular world. A device around your wrist could hum lightly when your body odor got to be too strong. The next time you’re walking around and smell something awful, it could tell you what it is. Uoi could even tell if food in your kitchen has gone bad or not.
But of course with any new technology there are concerns too.
“Body odour can smell pleasant and specific to the individual, and can be used to identify people, though this is more often done by dogs and other animals, than by humans.” (Wikipedia) With the cheap availability of electronic noses, you’re basically giving each officer their own police dog. If you’re detained, they could tell exactly what you’ve been doing, if you’ve been near illegal drugs, even track you to the place you just left.
All in all, pretty cool yet scary stuff.
Once nanotechnology, stem cell research, and genetic engineering were able to converge upon the same laboratories it became clear that a wide variety of deadly and debilitative diseases share their origin: damaged or failing tissues, organs and bodily systems. Some are chronic due to aging, others are more acute, but they have correlated pathologies after all. The interrelationships between the biggest 20th century killers of humankind became astonishingly clear, as did the road to the regenerative medicine to cure nearly all of them.