Archive for the ‘Harvard University’ Category

In a trio of studies published Sunday, scientists reported that they reversed aging in the muscles and brains of old mice — simply by running the blood of young mice through their veins.

The papers, from two independent groups in Cambridge and California, used different approaches to begin to unravel the rejuvenating effects of young animals’ blood, in the hopes of eventually developing a therapy that could be tested in people.

Researchers at Harvard University administered a protein found in young blood to older mice, and found that treated mice could run longer on a treadmill and had more branching blood vessels in their brains than untreated mice. A group led by a University of California, San Francisco researcher identified a molecular switch in a memory center of the brain that appears to be turned on by blood from young mice.

“These are the tissues that are really affected by advancing age. Changes in these tissues are responsible for the changes that people worry about the most — loss of cognition and loss of independent function,” said Amy Wagers, a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University involved in two of the studies.

Wagers said many questions remain about the mechanism of the protein and what the best therapeutic strategy might be, but she is already working to commercialize the protein discovery. The same substance is found in human blood.

Outside scientists cautioned that the findings are limited to one strain of mice and that it is not yet clear that something so simple would have dramatic anti-aging effects in people.

The new studies build on a decade of research that showed that young blood can have a rejuvenating effect on older mice. When scientists stitched together the circulatory systems of pairs of old and young mice, in a procedure called parabiosis, they found beneficial effects on the cells of the spinal cord, muscles, brain, and liver of the older animals. The next question was why — which of the many substances floating around in blood were responsible for the changes, and how did it work?

Last year, Wagers and another Harvard stem cell scientist, Dr. Richard T. Lee, found that a protein called GDF11 could cause a mouse heart thickened with age to revert to a youthful state. No one knew, however, whether the effect was specific to the heart, or would apply to aging in other tissues. Two of the new papers, published online by the journal Science, extend that work to the mouse brain and muscle.

In one study, Wagers and colleagues first connected the blood vessels of old and young mice. They measured profound changes to muscle stem cells in the older mice that made the cells appear more youthful. There were also changes to the structure of muscle. Next, they injected the protein that had been shown to rejuvenate hearts into the older mice. Although some individual mice did not change much, on average, the treated mice could run nearly twice as long on a treadmill as older mice not given the protein. The protein had no effect when injected into younger mice.

In a second study, Dr. Lee Rubin, director of translational medicine at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, found that after parabiosis, the older mice had an increase in the branching network of blood vessels in the brain and in the rate of creation of new brain cells. Treated mice were more sensitive to changes in smell, suggesting the new neurons had an effect on their abilities. The GDF11 protein alone resulted in similar structural changes.

Wagers said that she has begun working with Atlas Venture, a venture capital firm based in Cambridge, to come up with a strategy to turn the insights about GDF11 into potential treatments that could be tested in people.

David Harrison, an aging researcher at Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit research organization based in Bar Harbor, Maine, who was not involved in the research, said that an important caveat about the research is that it was done on a particular strain of mouse that is inbred. It will be important, he said, to test the protein’s effect in a more genetically diverse population of mice before thinking about extending the work to clinical trials.

Thomas Rando, a professor of neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine who pioneered using the parabiosis technique to study aging, said it is important to try and understand how young blood has its potent effects. But he said it seems very unlikely, given how complex aging is, that reversing it will depend on a single pathway.

“My answer always was and always will be there’s no way there’s a factor,” Rando said. “There are going to be hundreds of factors.”

In the third study published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford used parabiosis to search for changes in gene activity in the brain that might help point to how young blood had its effects. They found changes in the activity of genes involved in the connectivity of brain cells in the hippocampus, a memory center.

Instead of using a specific protein, the researchers then gave older mice repeated transfusions of blood from young mice and found that the older animals improved on specific age-related memory tasks, such as locating an underwater platform and remembering an environment where they had experienced an unpleasant foot shock.

Saul Villeda, a UCSF faculty fellow who led the work, said that the results of the three studies reinforce one another, but they differ in their approach.

“I’m really interested to see whether GDF11 accounts for everything, or whether it’s going to be a combination of factors that together that has the full effect,” Villeda said.

All the researchers warned that people hoping to reverse aging shouldn’t get any wild ideas about infusing themselves with young blood, although they acknowledged making their share of vampire jokes.

“I am the oldest member of the team here, and I personally understand the sentiment for patients,” Rubin said. But he still wouldn’t try it.

Written by Carolyn Y. Johnson, who can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/science/2014/05/04/blood-from-young-mice-reverses-aging-brain-muscles/iepDMMf7wrLJy6WgXqpdIJ/story.html?rss_id=Top-GNP&google_editors_picks=true

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community

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Getting really angry might be more dangerous than you think.

A new study found people who experienced severe anger outbursts were more at risk for cardiovascular events in the two hours following the outbursts compared to those who remained calm.

“The relative risk was similar for people who had known pre-existing heart disease and those who didn’t,” says Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The study was designed so that each patient was compared to his or her own baseline risk. “A person with pre-existing heart disease or cardiovascular disease, the absolute risk they are incurring is much greater than (that of) a person without cardiovascular disease or risk factors,” Mittleman says.
“If we look at somebody at higher risk for having cardiovascular events, and they get angry multiple times a day, this can lead to 650 extra heart attacks per year out of 10, 000 a year,” he says. “When we look at a person who is relatively low risk, but if they do have these episodes of anger fairly frequently, we estimate there would be about 150 extra heart attacks out of 10,000 a year.”

Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight and having diabetes are all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. An estimated 17 million people worldwide die of cardiovascular diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study published Monday in the European Heart Journal was a data analysis looking at nine studies where anger and cardiovascular events were self-reported over nearly two decades. The study found a 4.74 times higher risk of MI (myocardial infarction, or heart attack) or ACS (acute coronary syndrome, where the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood) following outbursts of anger.

“Anger causes our heart rate to increase through the sympathetic nervous system and causes our stress hormones to become elevated (the fight or flight mechanism),” says Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association and medical director of the Penn Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “We breathe faster, all of which may trigger undesirable reactions in our blood pressure or in our arteries.”

This disruption may mean the heart or the brain doesn’t get the blood and oxygen they need resulting in a heart attack or a stroke, she says.

Researchers suggest more needs to be done to come up with effective interventions to prevent cardiovascular events triggered by anger outbursts. The American Heart Association suggests regular physical activity, finding a way to relax or talking with friends to help reduce stress and anger.

Mittleman suggests the best way to lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke during an angry outburst is to lower your overall baseline level of risk – exercise, eat healthy and don’t smoke – and then find ways to cope with stress and anger.

http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/03/angry-outbursts-may-raise-heart-attack-stroke-risk/?hpt=hp_t2

lizard

Scientists have spotted a lizard with a nose like Pinocchio in an Ecuadorian cloud forest. What’s more, the long-nosed reptile was thought extinct, having been seen only a few times in the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to describe the feelings of finding this lizard. Finding the Pinocchio anole was like discovering a secret, a deeply held secret. We conceived it for years to be a mythological creature,” Alejandro Arteaga, a photographer and one of the lizard’s spotters, said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, the defining feature of the Pinocchio lizard—properly named Anolis proboscis, or the horned anole—is the male’s long protrusion on the end of its nose. Far from being a sturdy, rigid structure, researchers have found that the horn is actually quite flexible.

Despite its peculiar appearance, the reptile wasn’t formally described by scientists until 1953. They managed to save only six specimens, all of which were male. It was spotted several times in the next few years, all near the town of Mindo, Ecuador, and then the species seemed to vanish.

“For 40 years, no one saw it. At that point, we thought the species had gone extinct,” said Jonathan Losos, an evolutionary biologist and herpetologist at Harvard University who has studied the animal.

Then, in 2005, a group of bird-watchers near Mindo spotted a strange-looking lizard crossing the road. One of them shared a picture when they got back home, and herpetologists realized that the Pinocchio lizard was still alive and well.

Several teams journeyed to this area of Ecuador to get a closer look. One team, led by Steve Poe, a researcher at the University of New Mexico and an expert at finding hard-to-spot lizards, found that the anoles were actually quite easy to find—if you knew where to look.

Because horned anoles sleep at the end of branches, turning a pale white color as they snooze, Poe’s team discovered that they were easily spotted at night with headlamps or flashlights. The researchers identified several females, none of which had a horn. What the anoles did during the day, however, remained a mystery.

Losos—also a member of the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration—arrived in Ecuador in 2010 to solve this mystery and study the natural history of the Pinocchio lizard. Unable to find the lizard by searching its known hideouts, Losos did what any good detective would: He set up a stakeout.

His team found the pale lizards at night and simply followed them into the day. This sleuthing revealed why the anoles were very rarely spotted during the day.

For one, Pinocchio lizards are extremely well camouflaged and live high in the canopy. They also move very, almost ridiculously, slowly—hardly faster than a crawl.

The latest team to discover the lizard also made some new discoveries about where the Pinocchio lizard lives.

“We discovered this lizard occurs in habitats very different to what has been suggested in the literature. No one had ever found the lizard in deep cloud forest away from open areas. The other sightings were in [the] forest border,” Arteaga said in a statement.

“It’s nice that this group spotted these anoles again,” Losos said. “What we really need are people to just go out into nature and study these creatures for a few months. It’s not that hard to do.”

Scientists have discovered similar horned anoles in Brazil, but a closer analysis revealed that these two species had evolved their horns independently.

And as for what the nose is used for, no one knows. Losos once suspected the males might use the horns in swordfighting-like duels, but the horns are far too flimsy and flexible to be used in such a way.

http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/08/pinocchio-lizard-spotted/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

matter

Harvard and MIT scientists are challenging the conventional wisdom about light, and they didn’t need to go to a galaxy far, far away to do it.

Working with colleagues at the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms, a group led by Harvard Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin and MIT Professor of Physics Vladan Vuletic have managed to coax photons into binding together to form molecules – a state of matter that, until recently, had been purely theoretical. The work is described in a September 25 paper in Nature.

The discovery, Lukin said, runs contrary to decades of accepted wisdom about the nature of light. Photons have long been described as massless particles which don’t interact with each other – shine two laser beams at each other, he said, and they simply pass through one another.

“Photonic molecules,” however, behave less like traditional lasers and more like something you might find in science fiction – the light saber.

“Most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless, and that they do not interact with each other,” Lukin said. “What we have done is create a special type of medium in which photons interact with each other so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass, and they bind together to form molecules. This type of photonic bound state has been discussed theoretically for quite a while, but until now it hadn’t been observed.

“It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers,” Lukin added. “When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”

To get the normally-massless photons to bind to each other, Lukin and colleagues, including Harvard post-doctoral fellow Ofer Fisterberg, former Harvard doctoral student Alexey Gorshkov and MIT graduate students Thibault Peyronel and Qiu Liang couldn’t rely on something like the Force – they instead turned to a set of more extreme conditions.

Researchers began by pumped rubidium atoms into a vacuum chamber, then used lasers to cool the cloud of atoms to just a few degrees above absolute zero. Using extremely weak laser pulses, they then fired single photons into the cloud of atoms.

As the photons enter the cloud of cold atoms, Lukin said, its energy excites atoms along its path, causing the photon to slow dramatically. As the photon moves through the cloud, that energy is handed off from atom to atom, and eventually exits the cloud with the photon.

“When the photon exits the medium, its identity is preserved,” Lukin said. “It’s the same effect we see with refraction of light in a water glass. The light enters the water, it hands off part of its energy to the medium, and inside it exists as light and matter coupled together, but when it exits, it’s still light. The process that takes place is the same it’s just a bit more extreme – the light is slowed considerably, and a lot more energy is given away than during refraction.”

When Lukin and colleagues fired two photons into the cloud, they were surprised to see them exit together, as a single molecule.

The reason they form the never-before-seen molecules?

An effect called a Rydberg blockade, Lukin said, which states that when an atom is excited, nearby atoms cannot be excited to the same degree. In practice, the effect means that as two photons enter the atomic cloud, the first excites an atom, but must move forward before the second photon can excite nearby atoms.

The result, he said, is that the two photons push and pull each other through the cloud as their energy is handed off from one atom to the next.

“It’s a photonic interaction that’s mediated by the atomic interaction,” Lukin said. “That makes these two photons behave like a molecule, and when they exit the medium they’re much more likely to do so together than as single photons.”

While the effect is unusual, it does have some practical applications as well.

“We do this for fun, and because we’re pushing the frontiers of science,” Lukin said. “But it feeds into the bigger picture of what we’re doing because photons remain the best possible means to carry quantum information. The handicap, though, has been that photons don’t interact with each other.”

To build a quantum computer, he explained, researchers need to build a system that can preserve quantum information, and process it using quantum logic operations. The challenge, however, is that quantum logic requires interactions between individual quanta so that quantum systems can be switched to perform information processing.

“What we demonstrate with this process allows us to do that,” Lukin said. “Before we make a useful, practical quantum switch or photonic logic gate we have to improve the performance, so it’s still at the proof-of-concept level, but this is an important step. The physical principles we’ve established here are important.”

The system could even be useful in classical computing, Lukin said, considering the power-dissipation challenges chip-makers now face. A number of companies – including IBM – have worked to develop systems that rely on optical routers that convert light signals into electrical signals, but those systems face their own hurdles.

Lukin also suggested that the system might one day even be used to create complex three-dimensional structures – such as crystals – wholly out of light.

“What it will be useful for we don’t know yet, but it’s a new state of matter, so we are hopeful that new applications may emerge as we continue to investigate these photonic molecules’ properties,” he said.

http://phys.org/news/2013-09-scientists-never-before-seen.html

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

pile-of-money-5

By Simone Foxman — June 14, 2013

Money may not be everything, but it’s probably more than you think. In fact, the effects of moolah on the mind are so strong that money can make you a bad person without realizing it.
That’s the conclusion drawn by new research from Maryam Kouchaki at Harvard University and Kristin Smith-Crowe of the University of Utah. In four separate studies, they found that people who were first primed with money-related words or images were more likely to make unethical decisions or lie than those who had seen neutral ones. Thoughts about money made the study’s participants more likely to agree to things like hiring a candidate because he had confidential information that could benefit the company, or stealing a ream of paper from their employer for their home printer.

“It’s pretty amazing to us that these subtle cues, environmental cues have this big of an effect,” Smith-Crowe told Quartz in an interview. “[Participants] were conscious that they were seeing words related to money but they were not conscious that these things were actually affecting their decisions and behavior.”

The study was prompted by a desire to figure out what prompts humans to forsake social bonds in favor of personal interest, Smith-Crowe explains. “When you’re engaged in business, you’re often making decisions based on cost-benefit analysis and you’re thinking about self-interest, which may be the company’s interest. But you’re not really thinking about other things.”

Kouchaki and Smith-Crowe found that money words prompted subjects to adopt a “business decision frame,” a mentality in which individuals conducted a kind of cost-benefit analysis to decide whether to pursue self-interest at the expense of social interest. The lens informs the decision; primed with money thoughts, individuals were twice as likely to lie about the results of a test for a small prize.

“Of course, we cannot suggest eliminating money, since money is a necessary feature of business organizations,” the authors write. “Yet, this research suggests that organizations should be aware of the potential of environmental or contextual cues for influencing employees’ unconscious unethical behavior.”

This money-mind mess can, however, be mitigated by what Smith-Crowe calls an “ethical infrastructure.” ”Our point is that you really have to pay a lot of attention, and really even more attention, to the informal systems,” she says—in other words, getting people to behave ethically is more about creating the right culture, environment and cues than it is about setting formal ethical standards. ”If you have a culture of people that feel that cutting corners, doing things unethically is acceptable, you’re going to have a hard time with that in a formal system. [Ethics standards are] sort-of attacking the wrong problem.”

http://qz.com/94189/just-thinking-about-money-can-make-you-more-evil-researchers-say/#

irish volcano

By Matt McGrath

Environment correspondent, BBC News

Researchers have been able to trace the impact of volcanic eruptions on the climate over a 1200 year period by assessing ancient Irish texts.

The international team compared entries in these medieval annals with ice core data indicating volcanic eruptions.

Of 38 volcanic events, 37 were associated with directly observed cold weather extremes recorded in the chronicles.

The report is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

In the dim light of the Dark Ages, the Irish literary tradition stands out like a beacon.

At monastic centres across the island, scribes recorded significant events such as feast days, obituaries and descriptions of extreme cold and heat.

These chronicles are generally known as the Irish Annals and in this report, scientists and historians have looked at 40,000 entries in the texts dating from AD431 to 1649.

The researchers also looked at the Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP2) ice-core data.

When volcanoes erupt, they produce sulphate aerosol particles which down the centuries have been deposited on and frozen in ice sheets, leaving an extremely accurate temporal record of the event.

Scientists say these particles reflect incoming sunlight and can cause a temporary cooling of the Earth’s surface. In a country with a mild maritime climate like Ireland, these colder events would have a significant impact.

When the weather that is cold enough to allow you to walk over a lake in Ireland, it is pretty unusual,” lead author Dr Francis Ludlow, from Harvard University, told BBC News.

“When it happened, it was remarkable enough to be recorded pretty consistently.”

The scientists in the team identified 48 volcanic eruptions in the time period spanning 1,219 years. Of these, 38 were associated closely in time with extreme weather events identified in the Irish texts.

“These eruptions occur and they override existing climate patterns for a period of two or three years,” said Dr Ludlow.

“And it is clear from the sources that they cause a lot of devastation among societies at the time – whether it was the mass mortality of domestic animals or humans, or indirectly by causing harvest failure.”

The research team believe the texts are accurate as the annals also record solar and lunar eclipses which can be compared with other contemporary sources.

The keen recording of weather though had another motivation.

“A lot of these scribes are working in monasteries, in some time periods they are interpreting these weather events as divine omens or portents as signals of the coming of the last days,” said Dr Ludlow.

“That was one of their motivations so we are able to use the records that were created for a completely different purpose that the scribes would never have conceived.”

The researchers say that one expected effect of volcanic eruptions that occur in tropical regions is to make for milder winters in northern latitudes.

But in this study, they found several instances of these type of eruptions causing extremely cold winters in Ireland. The team believes their work shows the complex nature of volcanic impacts on climate, and they say there are lessons for the future in the ancient texts.

“That tells us a lot about what sort of weather we might expect in the British Isles when the next big eruption goes off,” said Dr Ludlow.

“We might want to buy a bit more salt for the roads.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22786179

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

sn-sleep

Hitting the wall in the middle of a busy work day is nothing unusual, and a caffeine jolt is all it takes to snap most of us back into action. But people with certain sleep disorders battle a powerful urge to doze throughout the day, even after sleeping 10 hours or more at night. For them, caffeine doesn’t touch the problem, and more potent prescription stimulants aren’t much better. Now, a study with a small group of patients suggests that their condition may have a surprising source: a naturally occurring compound that works on the brain much like the key ingredients in chill pills such as Valium and Xanax.

The condition is known as primary hypersomnia, and it differs from the better known sleep disorder narcolepsy in that patients tend to have more persistent daytime sleepiness instead of sudden “sleep attacks.” The unknown cause and lack of treatment for primary hypersomnia has long frustrated David Rye, a neurologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “A third of our patients are on disability,” he says, “and these are 20- and 30-year-old people.”

Rye and colleagues began the new study with a hunch about what was going on. Several drugs used to treat insomnia promote sleep by targeting receptors for GABA, a neurotransmitter that dampens neural activity. Rye hypothesized that his hypersomnia patients might have some unknown compound in their brains that does something similar, enhancing the activity of so-called GABAA receptors. To try to find this mystery compound, he and his colleagues performed spinal taps on 32 hypersomnia patients and collected cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the liquid that bathes and insulates the brain and spinal cord. Then they added the patients’ CSF to cells genetically engineered to produce GABAA receptors, and looked for tiny electric currents that would indicate that the receptors had been activated.

In that first pass, nothing happened. However, when the researchers added the CSF and a bit of GABA to the cells, they saw an electrical response that was nearly twice as big as that caused by GABA alone. All of this suggests that the patients’ CSF doesn’t activate GABAA receptors directly, but it does make the receptors almost twice as sensitive to GABA, the researchers report today in Science Translational Medicine. This effect is similar to that of drugs called benzodiazepines, the active ingredients in antianxiety drugs such as Valium. It did not occur when the researchers treated the cells with CSF from people with normal sleep patterns.

Follow-up experiments suggested that the soporific compound in the patients’ CSF is a peptide or small protein, presumably made by the brain, but otherwise its identity remains a mystery.

The idea that endogenous benzodiazepinelike compounds could cause hypersomnia was proposed in the early 1990s by Elio Lugaresi, a pioneering Italian sleep clinician, says Clifford Saper, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. But several of Lugaresi’s patients later turned out to be taking benzodiazepines, which undermined his argument, and the idea fell out of favor. Saper says the new work makes a “pretty strong case.”

Based on these results, Rye and his colleagues designed a pilot study with seven patients using a drug called flumazenil, which counteracts benzodiazepines and is often used to treat people who overdose on those drugs. After an injection of flumazenil, the patients improved to near-normal levels on several measures of alertness and vigilance, the researchers report. Rye says these effects lasted up to a couple hours.

In hopes of longer-lasting benefits, the researchers persuaded the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche, which makes the drug, to donate a powdered form that can be incorporated into dissolvable tablets taken under the tongue and a cream applied to the skin. One 30-something patient has been taking these formulations for 4 years and has improved dramatically, the researchers report in the paper. She has resumed her career as an attorney, from which her hypersomnia had forced her to take a leave of absence.

The findings are “certainly provocative,” Saper says, although they’ll have to be replicated in a larger, double-blind trial to be truly convincing.

Even so, says Phyllis Zee, a neurologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois: “This gives us a new window into thinking about treatments” for primary hypersomnia. “These patients don’t respond well to stimulants,” Zee says, so a better strategy may be to inhibit the sleep-promoting effects of GABA—or as Rye puts it, releasing the parking brake instead of pressing the accelerator.

The next steps are clear, Rye says: Identify the mystery compound, figure out a faster way to detect it, and conduct a larger clinical trial to test the benefits of flumazenil. However, the researchers first need someone to fund such a study. So far, Rye says, they’ve gotten no takers.

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/11/putting-themselves-to-sleep.html