These death-defying rodents do not age normally. Will their weird biology help extend human life spans, or are those ambitions a dead end?
JOE HAS LOOKED old since the day he was born, back in 1982. He’s pink and squinty and wrinkly. His teeth are weird: His incisors sit outside his lips to keep the dirt out of his mouth as he digs tunnels for his tube-shaped body.
“He looks remarkably the same,” says Rochelle Buffenstein, a comparative biologist who has studied naked mole rats since the 1980s when she was doing her doctoral work in Cape Town, South Africa. That’s where she met Joe. (He doesn’t have an official name, so we’re going with Joe.) A few years later, Buffenstein was starting her own research on vitamin D metabolism in mole rats because they spend all their time in dark tunnels, away from the sun. She moved to Johannesburg with a few subjects to begin her work, leaving Joe behind. He was eventually shipped off to the Cincinnati Zoo. But he and Buffenstein would soon reunite.
Read the full story in WIRED
In her new book, Brandy Schillace recalls the unbelievable legacy of a Cold War era neurosurgeon’s mission to preserve the soul.
BRANDY SCHILLACE SOMETIMES writes fiction, but her new book is not that. Schillace, a medical historian, promises that her Cold War-era tale of a surgeon, neuroscientist, and father of 10 obsessed with transplanting heads is true from start to finish.
Schillace came across the story behind her book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, somewhat serendipitously: One day, her friend, Cleveland neurologist Michael DeGeorgia, called her to his office. He quietly slid a battered shoebox toward her, inviting her to open it. Schillace obliged, half-worried it might contain a brain. She pulled out a notebook—perhaps from the ‘50s or ‘60s, she says—and started to leaf through it.
“There’s all these strange little notes and stuff about mice and brains and brain slices, and these little flecks,” Schillace says. “I was like, ‘What … what are all these marks?’”
Probably blood, DeGeorgia told her. The blood-flecked notebook belonged to Robert White, a neurosurgeon who spent decades performing head transplants on monkeys, hoping to eventually use the procedure to give human brains new bodies.
Read the full story and Q&A in WIRED
This glowing microneedle test could catalyze a transition from blood-based diagnostics to a stick-on patch.
A RIVER OF biological information flows just beneath the outermost layers of your skin, in which a hodgepodge of proteins squeeze past each other through the interstitial fluid surrounding your cells. This “interstitium” is an expansive and structured space, making it, to some, a newfound “organ.” But its wealth of biomarkers for conditions like tuberculosis, heart attacks, and cancer has attracted growing attention from researchers looking to upend reliance on diagnostic tools they say are inefficient, invasive, and blood-centric.
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In a clinical trial, wearing a small stimulator on their necks helped people with quadriplegia build back movement they had lost years ago.
THE PROVERBIAL STORY of overcoming paralysis tends to start with the legs: Superman vows to walk again; a soap opera character steps out of their wheelchair. “I think society has a tendency to focus solely on the walking aspect of disability,” says Ian Ruder, a magazine editor with the United Spinal Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for people with spinal cord injuries and disorders. But Ruder, who has used a wheelchair following an injury 23 years ago, says even restoring just a fraction of his hand function would improve his quality of life more than walking. “The difference between being able to pinch with my thumb and not be able to pinch with my thumb is hard to understand for most people,” Ruder says. “That would unlock a whole new level of independence.”
Read the full story in WIRED
The authors worry about the spread of medical misinformation
A bioethics study published on December 8th calls on crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to ditch campaigns for unproven and unsafe medical procedures.
People turn to GoFundMe for help paying for all sorts of medical interventions. These campaigns have brought in over $650 million since 2010. But a subset of the money raised is spent on unproven and even illegal operations. Unregulated “stem cell therapies,” for example, attract harsh condemnation from the Food and Drug Administration, and Google even banned ads for the procedures. But the public fundraisers still appear on GoFundMe.
In the new paper, published in the peer-reviewed bioethics journal The Hastings Center Report, the authors argue that GoFundMe enables misinformation that enriches bad actors and can harm patients sick with cancer or other serious conditions. Between November 2017 and November 2018, GoFundMe campaigns raised over $5 million for unregulated neurological stem cell procedures, according to a recent study. Those campaigns were shared over 200,000 times on social media.
“They know this is happening. It can’t happen without their involvement,” says Jeremy Snyder, a bioethics researcher at Simon Fraser University and co-author of the report. “I think they should be ashamed of themselves for taking part in it.”
Read the full story in The Verge
After experiencing his seventh stroke, Rick Herrmann realized he could help survivors learn (or relearn) how to ski—potentially reducing the risk of future strokes.
After his first stroke, Rick Herrmann’s world changed. After his fourth, his doctor referred him to a psychologist to assist him in pondering death. But after his seventh stroke, Herrmann relearned to ski, and began inspiring other survivors to do the same.
Herrmann first skied through adversity long before having a stroke. In ski practice as a 17-year-old, he crashed disastrously and injured his foot. That didn’t do much to stop him. “I still had a season pass so I went up skiing, I just skied on one leg,” Herrmann says. “Little did I know that 20 years later, that’d be the way I’d be skiing.”
Read the full story in 5280
The ebb and flow of rainy seasons corresponds with the hatching of millions of mosquitoes—and the spread of diseases they carry
Few natural phenomena pose a greater threat to humans than a swarm of mosquitoes erupting from a cluster of soil-lodged eggs. These bloodthirsty menaces can carry a host of diseases, such as Zika, West Nile and malaria, making mosquitoes the world’s deadliest animals.
Mosquito-borne diseases threaten billions of people, and while the diseases vary in biology and geography, most, if not all, are exacerbated by climate change. Scientists predict that a warming world will invite the spread of more mosquitoes, and more illness, threatening a billion more people over the next 60 years. But long-term predictions are hard to act on, and public health experts believe short-term forecasts could better kick-start programs to save people’s lives today.
For the last 20 years, scientists studying weather patterns have pieced together how real-time data can help predict mosquito-borne disease outbreaks weeks or even months before the insects emerge from the ground. These tools may provide a mechanism to prevent millions of deaths, tracking monsoons and other rain cycles to forecast mosquito hatching events.
Read the full story in Smithsonian
Bugs like it hot, and evolve faster when there’s lots of carbon dioxide
We often think of climate change in terms of extreme weather, but the impacts of global warming will extend far beyond natural disasters. Scientists suggest climate change will also make more of the world hospitable to mosquitoes—and the diseases they carry. To make matters worse, new research shows that climate change may also be supercharging mosquito evolution.
Zika, West Nile, and dengue are just a few of the deadly viruses that depend on mosquitoes to spread. Human diseases like these are also carried by animals like birds and rodents, who don’t always show symptoms. But if a mosquito bites an infected animal, it can later transmit the disease to other animals, including humans. That’s why many disease prevention efforts focus on controlling mosquito populations—a task that’s about to become a lot harder.
Read full story in Massive Science
Republished in Pacific Standard Mag
Diseases and disasters
The recently announced Green New Deal, a resolution to help address the threats of climate change, gives public health advocates a chance to confront an overlooked consequence of climate change: worsening mosquito-borne illnesses.
The resolution, which outlines projects designed to boost renewables, reduce emissions, and climate-proof the country’s infrastructure, was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). Its goal is to extinguish potential economic, national, and social infernos that are brought on by climate change. But the plan also recognizes growing threats to public health, such as the diseases becoming far more common in a warming world.
Climate change has already expanded the reach of mosquitoes that carry certain illnesses. More extreme weather events are also part of the package, and more severe storms, stronger hurricane seasons, more floods and droughts also increase the risk of disease after a natural disaster. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change could increase the number of people who are at risk of malaria by over 100 million.
Read more in The Verge
The clinics claim they can treat serious diseases with stem cells from fat. The FDA doesn’t buy it.
Inside Mark Berman’s clinic in Rancho Mirage, California, is a sign he’s obliged by law to post. It reads “Not FDA Approved.”
Patients who come here to the California Stem Cell Treatment Center can get treatments for ailments ranging from sports injuries to muscular dystrophy. For upward of $5,000, Berman, a plastic surgeon by training, will remove a small portion of their fat, process it, and inject it back into them.
This is called “fat-derived stem cell therapy”; the premise is that the stem cells in your fat can jump-start the healing process. “The stem cells could be good for repairing everything from Alzheimer’s to paralysis to neurodegenerative conditions,” says Berman. “These cells are miraculous for helping heal. We don’t have a choice. We have to use them.”
Read the full story in Vox