Viewing entries in
Radical Life Extension

Growing laboratory-engineered miniature human livers

I enjoyed eating cow liver as a kid. I never understood why so many kids thought it was bad. It was and still is one of my favorite foods. Now, one day soon, I might just be able to grow my own livers for snacking anytime I'd like. And the bonus is that if my own liver wears out or fails I might be able to have a surgeon pop a new one in. Well it might not be quite that simple. But in the quest to grow replacement human organs in the lab, livers are no doubt at the top of many a wish list. With its wide range of functions that support almost every organ in the body and no way to compensate for the absence of liver function, the ability to grow a replacement is also the focus of many research efforts. Now, for the first time, researchers have been able to successfully engineer miniature livers in the lab using human liver cells.

The ultimate aim of the research carried out at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is to provide a solution to the shortage of donor livers available for patients who need transplants. Additionally, the laboratory-engineered livers could also be used to test the safety of new drugs.

The livers engineered by the researchers are about an inch in diameter and weigh about 0.2 ounces (5.7 g). Even though the average weight of an adult human liver is around 4.4 pounds (2 kg), to meet to minimum needs of the human body the scientists say an engineered liver would need to weigh about one pound (454 g) because research has shown that human livers functioning at 30 percent of capacity are able to sustain the human body.

“We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we’re at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients,” said Shay Soker, Ph.D., professor of regenerative medicine and project director. “Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients.”

How the livers were engineered

To engineer the organs, the scientists took animal livers and treated them with a mild detergent to remove all cells in a process called decellularization. This left only the collagen “skeleton” or support structure which allowed the scientists to replace the original cells with two types of human cells: immature liver cells known as progenitors, and endothelial cells that line blood vessels.

Because the network of vessels remains intact after the decellularization process the researchers were able to introduce the cells into the liver skeleton through a large vessel that feeds a system of smaller vessels in the liver. The liver was then placed in a bioreactor, special equipment that provides a constant flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the organ.

Flexible biocompatible LEDs for next gen biomedicine

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created bio-compatible LED arrays that can bend, stretch, and even be implanted under the skin. You can see an example of this in the image as LEDs have been embedded under an animal's skin.
While getting a glowing tattoo would be awesome, the arrays are actually intended for activating drugs, monitoring medical conditions, or performing other biomedical tasks within the body. Down the road, however, they could also be incorporated into consumer goods, robotics, or military/industrial applications.
Many groups have been trying to produce flexible electronic circuits, most of those incorporating new materials such as carbon nanotubes combined with silicon. The U Illinois arrays, by contrast, use the traditional semiconductor gallium arsenide (GaAs) and conventional metals for diodes and detectors.
Last year, by stamping GaAs-based components onto a plastic film, Prof. John Rogers and his team were able to create the array’s underlying circuit. Recently, they added coiled interconnecting metal wires and electronic components, to create a mesh-like grid of LEDs and photodetectors. That array was added to a pre-stretched sheet of rubber, which was then itself encapsulated inside another piece of rubber, this one being bio-compatible and transparent.
The resulting device can be twisted or stretched in any direction, with the electronics remaining unaffected after being repeatedly stretched by up to 75 percent. The coiled wires, which spring back and forth like a telephone cord, are the secret to its flexibility.
Rogers and his associates are now working on commercializing their biocompatible flexible LED array via their startup company, mc10.
The research was recently published in the journal Nature Materials.

watching nanoparticles grow

I have spent a lot of time over the past decade-and-a-half talking about nanotech and nanoparticles. The often unexpected properties of these tiny specks of matter are give them applications in everything from synthetic antibodies to fuel cells to water filters and far beyond.
Recently, for the first time ever, scientists were able to watch the particles grow from their earliest stage of development. Given that the performance of nanoparticles is based on their structure, composition, and size, being able to see how they grow could lead to the development of better growing conditions, and thus better nanotechnology.
The research was carried out by a team of scientists from the Center for Nanoscale Materials, the Advanced Photon Source (both run by US Government's Argonne National Laboratory) and the High Pressure Synergetic Consortium (HPSynC).
The team used highly focused high-energy X-ray diffraction to observe the nanoparticles. Amongst other things, it was noted that the initial chemical reaction often occurred quite quickly, then continued to evolve over time.
“It’s been very difficult to watch these tiny particles be born and grow in the past because traditional techniques require that the sample be in a vacuum and many nanoparticles are grown in a metal-conducting liquid,” said study coauthor Wenge Yang. “We have not been able to see how different conditions affect the particles, much less understand how we can tweak the conditions to get a desired effect.”
HPSynC’s Russell Hemley added, “This study shows the promise of new techniques for probing crystal growth in real time. Our ultimate goal is to use these new methods to track chemical reactions as they occur under a variety of conditions, including variable pressures and temperatures, and to use that knowledge to design and make new materials for energy applications.”
The research was recently published in the journal NANOLetters.

‘Artificial ovary’ allows human eggs to be matured outside the body

 

In a move that could yield infertility treatments for cancer patients and provide a powerful new means for conducting fertility research, researchers have built an artificial human ovary that can grow oocytes into mature human eggs in the laboratory. The ovary not only provides a living laboratory for investigating fundamental questions about how healthy ovaries work, but also can act as a testbed for seeing how problems, such as exposure to toxins or other chemicals, can disrupt egg maturation and health. It could also allow immature eggs, salvaged and frozen from women facing cancer treatment, to be matured outside the patient in the artificial ovary.
To create the ovary, the researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital formed honeycombs of theca cells, one of two key types of cells in the ovary, donated by reproductive-age (25-46) patients at the hospital. After the theca cells grew into the honeycomb shape, spherical clumps of donated granulosa cells were inserted into the holes of the honeycomb together with human egg cells, known as oocytes. In a couple days the theca cells enveloped the granulosa and eggs, mimicking a real ovary. In experiments the structure was able to nurture eggs from the “early antral follicle” stage to mature human eggs.
Sandra Carson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Women & Infants Hospital, said her goal was never to invent an artificial organ, per se, but merely create a research environment in which she could study how theca and granulose cells and oocytes interact. She then heard of the so-called “3D Petri dishes” developed by Jeffrey Morgan that are made of a moldable agarose gel that provides a nurturing template to encourage cells to assemble into specific shapes. The two then teamed up to create the organ, resulting in the first fully functioning tissue to be made using Morgan’s method.
The paper detailing the development of the artificial ovary appears in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.

 

the moon is our backup drive

the moon is our backup drive

My two year old son loves the Moon. He sings about it all day long. He can't wait for nightfall

a real-time view of human chemical messenger system

As a kid I wanted to grow up and become a biomedical engineer. I think I was probably mostly inspired by Lee Majors portrayal of The Six Million Dollar Man. I thought it would be amazingly cool to build robotic body parts that could be attached to people. In essence upgrading them to uber-beings providing us with super-strength and other amazing abilities. Ultimately, it was my inability to tolerate inorganic chemistry classes that dashed those dreams and sent me instead deep into the worlds of business and computer science.

Today, I wonder for my son just how far our understanding of life itself will extend by the time he is ready to go to university in the next couple of decades. Earlier this week, U.K. researchers announced the development of a technology that enables the real-time viewing of microscopic activity within the body’s chemical messenger system. The researchers first created novel drug molecules  which have “fluorescent labels” attached, then using fluorescence  correlation spectroscopy, the molecules can be followed under a highly sensitive microscope as they bind to receptors, glowing all the while under a laser beam … all in real time at the single molecule level. Truly remarkable!

The laser technology has helped to attract £1.3 million from the MRC (Medical Research Council) for a five-year project that will offer a new insight into the tiny world of activity taking place within single cells and could contribute to the design of new drugs to treat human diseases such as asthma  and arthritis with fewer side effects.

The team, involving scientists from the University of Nottingham’s Schools of Biomedical Science (Professor Steve Hill and Dr Steve Briddon) and Pharmacy (Dr Barrie Kellam), is concentrating on a type of specialised docking site (receptor) on the surface of a cell that recognises and responds to a natural chemical within the body called adenosine.

These A3-adenosine receptors work within the body by binding with proteins to cause a response within cells and are found in very tiny and highly specialised area of a cell membrane called microdomains. Microdomains contain a collection of different molecules that are involved in telling the cell how to respond to drugs or hormones.

It is believed that these receptors play an important role in inflammation within the body and knowing more about how they operate could inform the future development of anti-inflammatory drugs that target just those receptors in the relevant microdomain of the cell, without influencing the same receptors in other areas of the cell. However, scientists have never before been able to look in detail at their activity within these tiny microscopic regions of a living cell.

The Nottingham researchers have solved this problem by creating novel drug molecules which have fluorescent labels attached. Using a cutting edge laser technology called fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, the fluorescent drug molecules can be detected as they glow under the laser beam of a highly sensitive microscope. This allows their binding to the receptor to be followed for the first time in real time at the single molecule level.

Leading the project, Professor Steve Hill in the School of Biomedical Sciences said: “These microdomains are so tiny you could fit five million on them on a full stop. There are 10,000 receptors on each cell, and we are able to follow how single drug molecules bind to individual receptors in these specialised microdomains.

“What makes this single molecule laser technique unique is that we are looking at them in real time on a living cell. Other techniques that investigate how drugs bind to their receptors require many millions of cells to get a big enough signal and this normally involves destroying the cells in the process”

The researchers will be using donated blood as a source of A3-receptors in specialised human blood cells (neutrophils) that have important roles during inflammation.

Different types of adenosine receptors are found all over the body and can exist in different areas of the cell membrane and have different properties. Scientists hope that eventually the new technology could also be used to unlock the secrets of the role they play in a whole host of human diseases.

The fluorescent molecules developed as part of the research project will also be useful in drug screening programmes and the University of Nottingham will be making these fluorescent drugs available to the wider scientific community through its links with its spin-out company CellAura Technologies Ltd.

Dr. Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey, Ph.D

What is a cool guy? My buddy Miguel has some ideas.

But, I think it takes more than awesome moustaches and Members Only jackets to be a cool guy. I think the idea of working towards a solution for radical life extension and treating aging as a disease is probably a better definition. And, given that criteria, there is nobody better suited to living the dream of being a cool guy then Dr. Aubrey de Grey (see photo). So, if you are thinking it is his beard that makes him cool you are only partially correct.

Aubrey_de_Grey_photo_authorized.jpgApart from being my friend on Facebook and SuperPoking the hell out of me. Aubrey argues that the fundamental knowledge necessary to develop effective anti-aging medicine mostly exists today, and that the science is actually ahead of the funding. He works to identify and promote specific technological approaches to the reversal of various aspects of aging, or as de Grey puts it, "the set of accumulated side effects from metabolism that eventually kills us."

As of 2005, de Grey's work centered upon a detailed plan called Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) which is aimed at preventing age-related physical and cognitive decline. So, if you have a few minutes check it out. Who knows? If you end up supporting the effort you may have more than a few minutes.

Researchers of life extension are known as biogerontologists. They seek to understand the nature of aging and they develop treatments to reverse aging processes or to at least slow them down, for the improvement of health and the maintenance of youthful vigor at every stage of life.  Those who take advantage of life extension findings and seek to apply them upon themselves are called "life extensionists" or "longevists". The primary life extension strategy currently is to apply available anti-aging methods in the hope of living long enough to benefit from a complete cure to aging once it is developed, which given the rapidly advancing state of biogenetic and general medical technology, could conceivably occur within the lifetimes of people living today. Most likely around 2020 according to most futurists.

Many biomedical gerontologists and life extensionists believe that future breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation with stem cells, organs replacement (with artificial organs or xenotransplantations) and molecular repair will eliminate all aging and disease as well as allow for complete rejuvenation to a youthful condition. Whether such breakthroughs can occur within the next few decades is impossible to predict. Many life extensionists arrange to be cryonically preserved upon legal death so that they can await the time when future medicine can eliminate disease, rejuvenate them to a lasting youthful condition and repair damage caused by the cryonics process.

 
Anyway, I think the the work Aubrey is doing makes him one cool guy.


Facebook

Click here to become a fan of the The Methuselah Foundation