Blog Archives

It’s About Time!

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The well-known tech startup incubator and venture capital firm Y Combinator has announced a new special program named YC Bio. It is aimed at early-stage life science biotechnology startups which are still in laboratory mode. The first sub-area of biology in which the program will focus is healthspan and age-related disease, where ‘healthspan’ denotes the amount of time person is healthy as opposed to the time they are alive but unhealthy. Startups accepted into the program will be provided with free lab space, and will participate the standard Y Combinator program. Successful ‘graduates’ will be offered (by YC) between $500,000 and $1 million for 10 to 20 percent ownership of the startup (as opposed to $120,000 for 7 percent ownership for non-YC Bio companies in the YC class).

Hopefully this program, and potentially others like it, will help accelerate the development of everything from drugs to devices which will help people ward off the ravages of aging.

Below is a link to the YC announcement, together with a short recap of it:

YC Bio
Y Combinator is launching a biotech track

Both links have been added to Aging

Category: Aging

Eating Green For Brain (And Eye) Health

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The drumbeat of studies demonstrating the value of appropriate diet in managing brain health and resisting cognitive decline continues. Not long after this summer’s report Mediterranean/MIND Diet Seriously Fights Alzheimer’s/Dementia” comes a new study showing that sufficient consumption of green leafy vegetables might help slow mental decline so that you might have a mental age 11 years younger than you would otherwise. An added benefit is that a diet high in natural vitamin C, which includes green leafy vegetables, can lower the risk of cataracts in your eyes as you age by at least 20%, as seen in a another new study.

The green-leafy-vegetables-dementia study utilized 960 people (average age 81) from the Memory and Aging Project (MAP). The participants self-reported their eating habits on the Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ), and their thinking and memory skills were tested annually over an average of almost 5 years. From the FFQs, the researchers recorded the number of servings of spinach (½ cup cooked), kale/collard-greens (½ cup cooked), and lettuce salad (1 cup raw). Those whose intake of these vegetables was in the highest quintile (median 1.3 servings/day) had a cognitive decline rate that was equivalent to being 11 years younger in age.

The vitamin-C-cataract study showed that a healthy diet high in vitamin C obtained from fruits and vegetables can help slow or prevent the the development of cataracts regardless of genetic predisposition. The study utilized 1,000 pairs of female twins from the UK Twins registry. They filled out a detailed food questionnaire that measured their day-to-day nutrient intake when they were about 60 years old. Each participant’s eyes were digitally scanned to measure their initial progression of cataracts. Those whose diet included natural vitamin C obtained from roughly two servings of fruit and vegetables daily were 20% less likely to have developed cataracts than those who ate a less nutritious diet.

Ten years later, the study examined 324 of the twin pairs. Those who had originally reported eating more vitamin C in their diet were now at a 33% lower risk of developing cataracts compared to those who had eaten less vitamin C.

Unfortunately, popping vitamin C capsules won’t do the job. Those who reaped the greatest protective benefits had been steadily eating at least twice the recommended daily allowance of fruits and veggies, which is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men. The study leader said: “We found no beneficial effect from supplements, only from the vitamin C in the diet. This probably means that it is not just vitamin C but everything about a healthy diet that is good for us and good for aging.” Consider regularly eating foods like oranges, red and green bell peppers, cantaloupe, papaya, kiwi, broccoli, and dark leafy greens.

Here are four media articles on the green-leafy-vegetables-dementia study:
Eat your vegetables: Nutrients in leafy greens may help prevent dementia
Cognitive Benefits Seen With Leafy Green Vegetable Intake
A Salad a Day May Be Good for Brain Health [Possible paywall]
Daily Serving of Leafy Greens May Boost Brain Health

And here is the original green-leafy-vegetables-dementia study article:
Nutrients and bioactive in green leafy vegetables and cognitive decline

Here are two media articles on the vitamin-C-cataract study article:
A Healthy Diet Rich In Vitamin C May Lower Risk Of Cataracts By 20%
Increased vitamin C in the diet could help protect against cataracts

And here is the original vitamin-C-cataract study article:
Genetic and Dietary Factors Influencing the Progression of Nuclear Cataract

All eight links have been added to Health > Diet.

Category: Diet

Drug For Huntington’s, Maybe Later Alzheimer’s?

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Huntington’s disease is a neuro-degenerative disorder in which nerve cells in the brain are damaged. It is inherited, caused by defects in a single gene. Huntington’s effects include changes in behavior and emotions, involuntary jerky movements, and cognitive difficulties. To date there have been no effective drugs or other treatments. Consequently, there has been considerable excitement over the announcement of positive results of a Phase 1 trial of a drug for Huntington’s.

The drug is a synthetic single strand of DNA which has been customized to latch onto the Huntington messenger molecule, thereby blocking it’s action. There is excitement that similar custom DNA molecules could be created for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Needless to say, there is much hard work ahead.

Here are four media articles about the announcement (Publication will occur at a later date.):

Excitement as trial shows Huntington’s drug could slow progress of disease
Drug trial shows promising results to fight Huntington’s disease
Drug lowers deadly Huntington’s disease protein
First trials of Huntington’s drug show it could slow disease

All four links have been added to Neuro-Psych

Category: Neuro-Psych

Brain Inflammation & Alzheimer’s

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A current article, published on this year’s solstice (21 Dec), has excited Alzheimer’s researchers about the possibility of a refinement of the line of attack on the disease. The deposit of amyloid plaques is widely regarded as the core cause of the death of masses of brain neurons, the direct cause of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Most drug development efforts have targeted removal of the plaques, and almost all have failed (see The hard truth about Alzheimer’s drugs, link filed in Treatment > Drugs). The only one with any promise is Aducanumab, which only seems to have value if taken in very early stages of Alzheimer’s, and will be hugely expensive (see the article at end).

Besides the development of amyloid plaques, tangles of tau proteins inside the neurons, together with signs of activated/irritated immune cells called microglia are also found extensively in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The activated/irritated microglia can be caused by such things as a mild injury or a virus, and are also provoked by the deposit of amyloid. The newly published paper suggests that there may be an interaction or even feedback loop between deposit of amyloid and the irritated microglia. A key part of the process is the formation inside the microglia of a protein complex called an inflammasome. This complex both signals to other microglia to provoke further inflammation, but also releases specks of a protein called ASC. These specks appear to act as seeds for further deposit of amyloid, and the resulting amyloid plaques have ASC specks at their core. The first media article below compares this to the “grit inside a pearl”.

The research was mostly carried out on mice, though examining the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients showed substantial amounts of amyloid plaque containing ASC specs at core. In parts of the mice experiments, it was shown that presence or absence of ASC affected the generation of amyloid, and in other parts of the experiments, it was shown that when antibodies to ASC were injected, it interfered with the seeding effect for amyloid by ASC.

Thus, attacking inflammation and the action of ASC now seems like a promising way forward.

Here are two media articles about the study:

Brain inflammation sows the seeds of Alzheimer’s
Do Microglia Spread Aβ Plaques?

Here is the original study article:
Microglia-derived ASC specks cross-seed amyloid-β in Alzheimer’s disease

All three of these links have been added to Alzheimers > Neurology & Neuroplasticity

And here is an article about the drug Aducanumab (link added to Treatment > Drugs):
Robert Chen, MD-PhD candidate in Alzheimer’s research: What were the key findings from the Aducanumab phase 1 clinical trials? [Reprinted as: Aducanumab Is Showing Promise As An Alzheimer’s Treatment, But It’s Still Early]

Age, Sleep & Memory

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While sleep is still a great mystery, researchers continue to chip away at aspects of it. A recent study has revealed a mechanism involved in something important to most of us: why we get more forgetful as we grow older. The study showed that the key appears to be the synchronization between slow (one every second or two) and fast (up to 12 per second) brainwaves during non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. When well synchronized, recent, short-term memories are consolidated, while when poorly synchronized (off by as little as 50 milliseconds), memories tend to be lost.

The study utilized 20 young adults and 32 people in their 60s and 70s; none showed any evidence of any form of dementia. They memorized 120 pairs of words, and then slept while monitored by electrodes on their heads. Then the next morning, the subjects were tested to determine how many of the word pairs they recalled. The results were that the young people had much better brain wave synchronization, and recall of the word pairs, than the older people.

The poor coordination of brain waves appears to be due to atrophy of the medial brain cortex, the area of the brain involved in producing deep sleep. Unfortunately, such atrophy occurs normally as one ages. There are plans to explore improving brainwave coordination in older people by applying magnetic or electrical stimuli to the scalp during sleep. But at present there appear to be no remedies available.

Here are three media articles on the study:
Older Adults’ Forgetfulness Tied To Faulty Brain Rhythms In Sleep
Older adults forget more because their brain rhythms don’t sync during sleep, study says
This keeps older adults from ‘saving’ memories during sleep

And here is the original study article:
Old Brains Come Uncoupled in Sleep: Slow Wave-Spindle Synchrony, Brain Atrophy, and Forgetting.

All four links have been added to Aging.

Category: Aging

Bad Sleep Might Predict Alzheimer’s

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Disturbed sleep is widely regarded as one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. So there is an obvious question: Are any forms of disturbed sleep occurring before the onset of Alzheimer’s predictive of the later onset of the disease? Four studies set out to examine the relationship between different aspects of sleep disturbance and the later onset of Alzheimer’s. All of the studies showed some correlation between the studied aspect of sleep disturbance and the latter occurrence of Alzheimer’s.

Below, we provide links to a media article on each of the studies, together with a link to the main research article (or an abstract):

A Change in Sleep Habits from Normal to Long: Harbinger of Dementia?
Research:
Prolonged sleep duration as a marker of early neurodegeneration predicting incident dementia.

Can poor sleep lead to Alzheimer’s?
Research:
Sleep architecture and the risk of incident dementia in the community

Poor Sleep Tied to Increased Alzheimer’s Risk
Research:
Poor sleep is associated with CSF biomarkers of amyloid pathology in cognitively normal adults

Poor quality sleep could increase Alzheimer’s risk, research suggests
Research:
Slow wave sleep disruption increases cerebrospinal fluid amyloid-β levels

All of the links have been added to Alzheimer’s > Risk Factors.

Category: Risk Factors

The Eyes May Know About Alzheimer’s

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Finding inexpensive non-invasive tests to detect early Alzheimer’s is a major goal for many research groups. A very promising route is to use eye scans since the retina, exposed at the back of eye, is actually part of the central nervous system. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles have taken that route, and have developed a scanning mechanism, similar to standard ophthalmic instruments, which can examine the retina and determine the amount of retinal plaque — similar to brain plaque seemingly involved in Alzheimer’s — present in the retina. Promising trials correlating the amount of retinal plaque present with the amount of brain plaque present are underway, where the amount of brain plaque is estimated by means of (expensive and difficult) PET scans.

Here are links to three media articles about the work:

Can this eye scan detect Alzheimer’s years in advance?
Clinical study shows that retinal imaging may detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease
Cedars-Sinai Device May Provide Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease

And here is a link to the main research article:
Retinal amyloid pathology and proof-of-concept imaging trial in Alzheimer’s disease

It’s interesting to note that a similar approach has been developed for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease:
Eye test may detect Parkinson’s before symptoms appear

All links are contained in Alzheimer’s > Diagnosis & Tests

Category: Diagnosis & Tests

Bad Air, Big Roads, & Dementia

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Can breathing lead to Alzheimer’s? Three studies of the link between air pollution and dementia suggest that it could. Exceedingly small polluting particles — 200 times smaller than the width of a human hair — of ammonium, black carbon, nitrate, sulfate, and heavy metal are known to cause or exacerbate asthma, lung cancer, heart disease — and now — dementia, including Alzheimer’s.

Here is a link to a Science Magazine article discussing two of the studies and the general broad problem:
THE POLLUTED BRAIN: Evidence builds that dirty air causes Alzheimer’s, dementia

Below are links to groups of media articles discussing each study, each together with a link to the research article.

Can Air Pollution Heighten Alzheimer’s Risk?
Air pollution may lead to dementia in older women
Research article:
Particulate air pollutants, APOE alleles and their contributions to cognitive impairment in older women and to amyloidogenesis in experimental models

Living near heavy traffic increases risk of dementia, say scientists
Living close to a major roadway could increase dementia risk, study says
Research article:
Living near major roads and the incidence of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis: a population-based cohort study

Culprit hidden in plain sight in Alzheimer disease development
Research article:
Markers associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are present in Mexico City children chronically exposed to concentrations of fine particulate matter PM2.5 above the current EPA USA standards

All of the links can be found in Alzheimer’s > Risk Factors.

Category: Risk Factors

Alzheimer’s Coping Stories Update

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Greg O’Brien was diagnosed in 2009 with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He has written a book about his experiences (On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s), appeared in a short documentary film (see Learning to Live and Progress with Alzheimer’s ) and wrote the following short piece in Nautilis:
     A Look Through the Eyes of Alzheimer’s
The piece Alzheimer’s Bring Other Health Problems With It, from NPR in June of 2017, is an extended interview with Greg describing some of the difficult personality side-effects of O’Brien’s (and most sufferer’s) struggle with Alzheimer’s.

Sandy Bem was a 65 year-old Cornell psychology professor when she learned that she was suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s. This article, The Last Day of Her Life recounts the several year process of arriving at the day she ended her life with a glass of pentobarbital, with all of her family surrounding her.

In 2012, 69 year-old Geri Taylor saw the beginnings of the onset of early Alzheimer’s in herself. This piece,
Fraying at the Edges: Her Fight to Live With Alzheimer’s, follows her for the next 3 years as she finds ways to hold on to pieces of herself and to construct a new way to live.

Steve Goodwin was a gifted pianist and improvisational composer who never wrote down or recorded his compositions. Early onset Alzheimer’s began robbing him and his family of his music. This piece,
Family struggles to save pianist’s music before Alzheimer’s can steal it, describes the ensuing years and how his family and a professional musician friend of his daughter worked to save his music. The effort culminated in a packed public concert of the music.

Sandy’s Story tells the story of Sandy Halperin and the first four years of his early onset Alzheimer’s. After Alzheimer’s diagnosis, ‘there’s still a good life’ updates that story to the present.

AC/DC’s Malcolm Young has dementia, family says announced that Young was suffering from dementia. Sadly,
AC/DC co-founder and guitarist Malcolm Young dies at 64
announced that he has died.

All the links can be found in Alzheimer’s > Coping and Caregivers > Coping Stories

Adherence To A Diet — What Does It Mean?

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Hard on the heels of studies showing that following the Mediterranean diet (MD) or MIND diet can have significant effects on the likelihood of dementia as one ages, comes a very large-scale study showing that the fine-grain details of following the MD can significantly affect the cardiovascular outcomes for an individual as he/she ages, and so, presumably, also the brain health outcomes. At the simplest, “MD is associated with lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk but this relationship is confined to higher socioeconomic groups.” Since the MIND diet is quite similar to the the MD diet, presumably these results will also apply to it.

It has been informally obvious for some time that healthy eating focusing on quality vegetables is seriously sensitive to the price of those vegetables: Just perform a search on “health effects of the cost of fresh vegetables” and browse the results. However, the study in question, High adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with cardiovascular protection in higher but not in lower socioeconomic groups… set out to scientifically study the issue and quantify the relationship.

The Background statement for the study is:

It is uncertain whether the cardiovascular benefits associated with Mediterranean diet (MD) may differ across socioeconomic groups.

The study, conducted in Italy, enrolled 18,991 men and women aged 35 years and older from the Molise region and ran for 4.3 years. The degree of adherence to the Mediterranean Diet was was determined by the (self-reported) Mediterranean diet score (9-question version; see also 14-question version). Socioeconomic status (group) was determined by the household income (euros/year) combined with educational level. The individual cardiovascular hazard ratios (risk of heart attack) were calculated by standard statistical techniques).

This study reconfirmed earlier work that the Mediterranean diet (MD) is associated with lower cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. However, it showed that amount of protection provided is sensitive to the socioeconomic status (group) of an individual. Specifically, for higher socioeconomic groups, an increase in the MD score was associated with an increase in protection from CVD risk, but that association was notably weaker for lower socioeconomic groups. Examination of the details of the study inputs showed that for each given MD score group, the socioeconomic subgroups of that score group showed many diet-related disparities such as dietary diversity and different intakes of antioxidants and polyphenols, organic vegetables and whole grain bread consumption.

To a certain extent, this shows that the Mediterranean diet score (MD score) is a blunt instrument. People attaining the same MD score can have such different dietary details that the associated CVD risk protection is significantly different. Since this effect appears independently for education and for income, it is not totally a matter of money, but also education and point of view.

This Moli-sani Project study focused on the MD and protection from CVD. However, the accumulation of findings culminating in Mediterranean/MIND Diet Seriously Fights Alzheimer’s/Dementia showed that the MD diet can provide protections against dementia. It would seem likely that the finds of the present study would also apply to dementia. Hopefully, the Moli-sani Project will have data available to explore this question too.

Several media articles about the study are given below. Unfortunately, they have taken a sensationalistic approach to their headlines, which imply that the MD won’t/cannot benefit someone who isn’t upper class. Clearly someone who is not upper class, but who devotes the same level of attention to diet (and a greater proportion of income) will statistically see similar benefits.

Here are two of the media article links together with a link to the study:

The Mediterranean diet doesn’t benefit everyone, study says

Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are confirmed, but just for the upper class

Published research:
High adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with cardiovascular protection in higher but not in lower socioeconomic groups…

All the links have been added to Health > Diet.

Category: Diet