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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Researchers in Philadelphia figured out why eating fewer calories can lead to longer lives, scientists in Shanghai built a tiny power plant that uses blood flow to generate electricity inside the body, and a team in Seattle set a record by transmitting information across 1.7 miles with “almost zero power.” We roger that, science.

 

Staying Alive

You can have your 105th birthday, or your cake. Scientists say they can explain why eating fewer calories leads to longer life spans. Image credit: Getty Images.

What is it? Researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia say they figured out why eating fewer calories leads to longer life spans.

Why does it matter? Beyond the obvious, the team said the research could lead to new ways of preventing age-related disease. “The findings help to explain why mice live only about two to three years on average, rhesus monkeys about 25 years, and humans 70 or 80 years,” according to the university.

How does it work? The discovery centers on processes called DNA methylation and epigenetic drift, which determine how a gene should be used. “Our study shows that epigenetic drift, which is characterized by gains and losses in DNA methylation in the genome over time, occurs more rapidly in mice than in monkeys and more rapidly in monkeys than in humans,” according Jean-Pierre Issa, director of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research at the university and the study’s senior investigator. However, the team observed significant reductions in epigenetic drift when the researchers reduced the caloric intake in young mice by 40 percent and in middle-aged monkeys by 30 percent.

 

Blood Power

In a test on a frog, the team applied energy generated by the device to one of the frog’s muscles, and reported that ”a continuous generation of tension was obtained with good reproducibility.” Image credit: Getty Images.

What is it? Chinese scientists working at Fudan University in Shanghai have developed a tiny power plant that can turn blood flow into electricity. The team generated power in a vessel-like device that imitates arteries, veins as well as capillaries.

Why does it matter? The team says that the device, called a fluidic nanogenerator fiber, could lead to miniaturized power systems and can “generate electricity from any flowing water source in the environment as well as in the human body.” In a test on a frog, the team applied energy generated by the device to one of the frog’s muscles, and reported that ”a continuous generation of tension was obtained with good reproducibility.”

How does it work? The team made the lightweight, flexible and stretchable generator from a multiwalled carbon nanotube sheet. “In general, the electricity was derived from the relative movement between [the generator] and the solution,” the team wrote in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

 

This Camera Sees Through The Body

Images from a new camera that can detect tiny traces of light through the body’s tissues. Here, the camera is detecting light emitted from a medical device known as an optical endomicroscope while in use in sheep lungs. Image on left shows light emitted from the tip of the endomicroscope, revealing its precise location in the lungs. Right image shows the picture that would be obtained using a conventional camera, with light scattered through the structures of the lung. Images and caption credit: The University of Edinburgh.

What is it? Scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland developed a camera that can see through the human body.

Why does it matter? The team said that the brick-like could help doctors detect the medical tools they use to investigate the inside of the body, such as endoscopes. “Until now it has not been possible to track where an endoscope is located in the body in order to guide it to the right place without using X-rays or other expensive methods,” the university said.

How does it work? By integrating thousands of single photon detectors on a silicon chip, the camera is “so sensitive that it can detect the tiny traces of light that pass through the body’s tissue from the light of the endoscope,” the university said. “The ability to see a device’s location is crucial for many applications in healthcare, as we move forwards with minimally invasive approaches to treating disease,” said Kev Dhaliwal, professor of molecular imaging and healthcare technology at the University of Edinburgh.

 

FDA Approves First Gene Therapy To Fight Cancer In The U.S.

Top and above: “We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Images credit: Getty Images.

What is it? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first gene therapy available in the United States. The therapy, called Kymriah, is used to treat “certain pediatric and young adult patients with a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” a cancer of the bone marrow and blood.

How does it work? Gene and cell therapies program immune cells taken from the patient’s body so they can recognize and kill disease. In the case of Kymriah, doctor harvest the individual’s T-cells and send them to a manufacturing center. There, they are modified to include a new gene containing a protein that signals the T-cells to find and destroy specific cancer cells. The modified cells are then infused into the patient.

Why does it matter? “We’re entering a new frontier in medical innovation with the ability to reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack a deadly cancer,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “New technologies such as gene and cell therapies hold out the potential to transform medicine and create an inflection point in our ability to treat and even cure many intractable illnesses.”

 

Can You Hear Me Now?

The research team built this flexible epidermal patch prototype — which could be used to collect and wirelessly transmit useful medical data — that successfully transmitted information across a 3,300 square-foot atrium. Image and caption credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington.

What is it? Researchers at the University of Washington have transmitted data from a device running on “almost zero power” across 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles), “breaking a long-held barrier and potentially enabling a vast array of interconnected devices.”

Why does it matter? Flexible medical devices like sensors that detect sweat and fatigue “hold great promise for collecting medically relevant data,” the university said. But power demands limit “their practical use in applications ranging from medical monitoring and home sensing to smart cities and precision agriculture.” The university called the result “an important and necessary breakthrough toward embedding connectivity into billions of everyday objects.”

How does it work? The team is developing technology called “long-range backscatter system.” It relies on “backscattered” radio signals “that can be provided by thin cheap flexible printed batteries or can be harvested from ambient sources.” The school said the tech “provides reliable long-range communication with sensors that consume 1000 times less power than existing technologies capable of transmitting data over similar distances.”

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