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Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Fighting meningitis and aging!

The End of Aging? Inside the New Hunt for a Cure to Growing Old

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds
Popular Mechanics

We’ve long regarded aging as something almost mystical or supernatural, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike, say, smallpox, aging doesn’t come on suddenly or spread from person to person. You also don’t recover from it, as you do from most infectious diseases. It happens gradually, and it’s pretty much unrelenting. Eyesight dims, joints get stiff and achy, teeth go bad and, in general, things just keep getting worse until death arrives.

But research demonstrates that aging isn’t a supernatural process; it’s a physical one that gradually occurs as systems wear out beyond the body’s ability to repair them. Cells fill up with metabolic debris called lipofuscin that they can’t digest, accompanied by decreasing functionality. They also undergo glycation, gumming up and caramelizing with sugars that have bonded to proteins. Mitochondrial DNA can suffer mutations, and the body slowly loses stem cells, which weakens healing and repair.

Aging is breakdown, but broken things can be fixed.

Biogerontologists like Aubrey de Grey, author of Ending Aging, believe that living longer is a fairly straightforward engineering problem: Find out what breaks and fix it. De Grey promotes an approach he calls Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, or SENS. It identifies seven specific breakdowns and attempts to attack each of them in turn. He and others are researching longevity with support from nonprofits and an X Prize approach aimed at extending the life span of mice. (Researchers call it the Mprize, a reference to their quest to engineer the “Methuselah mouse.”). De Grey says that it will probably be 20 or 30 years before we see effective antiaging drugs on the market.

Scientists have already identified more modest life extenders. It’s pretty thoroughly established that red wine’s resveratrol activates the SIRT-1 gene, which seems to clean out intracellular gunk. (The gene is also triggered by calorie restriction.) Studies show that rats dosed with resveratrol—or given low-calorie diets—seem to live longer and remain far more vital than ordinary rats. Sirtris Pharmaceuticals is currently conducting human testing of a drug called SRT501 as a treatment for diabetes, but it may also hold promise for retarding the aging process and alleviating a number of inflammatory diseases that go with getting older.

At Stanford, researchers have reversed the aging of skin in mice, making it look and act like young skin, which contains cells that reproduce rapidly. This treatment isn’t ready for humans, but it suggests an approach. And given the popularity of cosmetics that merely address the appearance of aging, it seems likely a product that actually produces new skin would sell like hot cakes.

Meanwhile, commercial res­veratrol supplements are available, and people are taking them, including some scientists in the field. As part of the research for this column, I started taking one. To find out if it’s working, click here for a follow-up on my experience.

On the flip side, people often see extended longevity as dubious, envisioning extra years in the nursing home. As Jay Leno says, “People tell you to eat right and exercise, but that only gives you more years in your 80s. Who needs that? What I really want are more years in my 20s.” New treatments for aging would give us just that—or at least healthier years in our 60s and 70s. The goal isn’t just more years in your life, but more life in your years.

On a societal level, the extension of peoples’ productive working lives could pay huge dividends. If people stay youthful longer, we’ll see less pressure on the stressed-out social security systems of most industrialized countries. If 65-year-olds were as vigorous as 35-year-olds, or even 45-year-olds, there would be no reason to fund their retirement. Pushing the retirement age back a decade or two could save trillions. And, of course, if you can actually reverse aging, the whole notion of retirement becomes obsolete. source

My comment: Does it need a comment at all? I'm grabbing the red wine and hoping for the best!:) Ok on a serious note, I often meet a fear in people what will happen if we increase our life with another 20 or 50 years. I like the last paragraph of the article in that sense. A century ago, the life expectancy were 30 years lower. Are we now more miserable than then because we live longer? I doubt it!

Uganda: Vaccine Program Vanquishes a Dangerous Type of Childhood Meningitis

Published: March 11, 2008

A dangerous type of childhood meningitis has been virtually eliminated in Uganda in just five years after a vaccine was introduced, according to a study released this week.

That should save the lives of 5,000 children a year, the authors estimated.

“This is the first time we’ve seen this kind of impact, a 100 percent drop,” said Dr. Julian Lob-Levyt, executive secretary of the GAVI Alliance, which paid for the vaccines. “We hope this can be repeated in other countries.”

The study, released by the World Health Organization, monitored cases from 2001 to 2006.

The vaccine, known as Hib, protects against haemophilus influenzae type B, a bacterium that can inflame the lining of the brain or cause pneumonia. Each year, it kills 386,000 children globally. Three million more have severe side effects like deafness, paralysis or retardation.

The vaccine has existed since 1991 but was rare in the third world until the creation of the alliance — originally the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization — in 2000. Even at prices offered to poor countries, it had cost $7 , seven times as much as other vaccines.

The alliance joins United Nations health agencies, the World Bank, vaccine companies, universities and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and receives money from $1 billion in bonds issued by the International Finance Facility for Immunization.

By guaranteeing large orders, the alliance tries to drive down the price of vaccines. It estimates that it has helped prevent 2.3 million early deaths since 2000.

In wealthy countries, Hib vaccine is typically given at the age of 8 weeks. source

My comment: Unfortunately we here don't have that vaccine, but because meningitis is one of my greatest fears, I think it's great to see that vaccine working. I'm just waiting to see if it's going to have some side effects before I praise it.

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