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Pulse 24: Coffee, Social Dominance, and Promising Sci-Tech

Giulio Prisco Pulse Newsletter

Coffee

Coffee lovers, rejoice. Scientists have found that people who drink coffee appear to live longer. Drinking coffee seems to be associated with a lower risk of death due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory and kidney disease. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who consumed a cup of coffee a day were 12 percent less likely to die compared to those who didn't drink coffee, and those who drank two to three cups a day were 18 percent less likely to die. Not a coffee lover? Consider dark chocolate.

If coffee or dark chocolate don’t give you enough energy to become a dominant alpha, perhaps you could wait a few years and see if new drugs appear on the market, based on the recent discovery of a neural circuit that plays a role in social dominance. Stimulating the neurons in this circuit significantly boosted a mouse's chance of becoming the "winner" during aggressive encounters with other mice. Perhaps this discovery will open the way to making everyone an alpha - but can there be alphas without betas? I guess we could just learn to get along and cooperate better.

Gene therapy for pulmonary hypertension. Scientists at Mount Sinai and Theragene Pharmaceuticals are advancing a novel airway-delivered gene therapy for treating pulmonary hypertension, a form of high blood pressure in blood vessels in the lungs that is linked to heart failure. If the therapy succeeds in human clinical trials, it will provide patients for the first time with a way to reverse the damage caused by pulmonary hypertension.

Brain-like activity in the human immune system. A research team led by Australian National University scientists have found brain-like activity in the immune system. The research work, published in Nature, shows that human immune cells contain particles that have neurotransmitters including dopamine, which plays a crucial role in immune responses. According to the scientists, their research work could open the door to using available drugs to improve therapies for lymphoma, autoimmunity and immunodeficiency disorders.

Anti-CRISPR proteins reduce off-target errors in CRISPR gene editing. A research team including scientists in the lab of Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, have found ways to reduce unintended off-target effects of CRISPR-Cas9. The study, published in Science Advances, shows that recently discovered anti-CRISPR proteins decrease off-target effects by as much as a factor of four, acting like a kill switch to disable CRISPR-Cas9 after it’s done its job.

A project to synthesize the full human genome. Synthetic biologists in a large research consortium want to synthesize the full human genome from scratch. The cover story in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly news magazine of the American Chemical Society, explores Genome Project-write (GP-write) and the technical and ethical challenges it faces. GP-write aims to synthesize from scratch all 23 chromosomes of the human genome and insert them into cells in the lab. But proponents of the project say they’re focused on decreasing the cost of synthesizing and assembling large amounts of DNA rather than on creating designer babies.

Nanomedicine against brain tumors. Scientists at Northwestern Medicine have demonstrated a potential new therapeutic strategy based on nanomedicine for treating deadly glioblastoma brain tumors. The study, published in PNAS, shows that lipid polymer based nanoparticles deliver molecules to the tumors, where the molecules shut down key cancer drivers called brain tumor initiating cells. The strategy stopped tumor growth and extended survival in laboratory mice when the therapy was administered continuously through an implanted drug infusion pump.

High resolution neural interfaces for sensory restoration. DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design program (NESD), first announced last year, awarded contracts to five research organizations (Brown University; Columbia University; Fondation Voir et Entendre (The Seeing and Hearing Foundation); John B. Pierce Laboratory; and the University of California, Berkeley) and a company (Paradromics, Inc.) to develop the fundamental research and component technologies required to pursue the NESD vision of a high-resolution neural interface and integrate them to create and demonstrate working systems able to support potential future therapies for sensory restoration. Four of the teams will focus on vision and two will focus on aspects of hearing and speech.



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