End to Being Old? The Mission to Make 90 the Next 50

By the time you reach your twilight years, being 90 could be barely any age at all. If the Methuselah Foundation succeeds, from 2030 reaching your ninth decade could be no more remarkable than turning 50, with the same level of associated health and fitness.

The organisation is focused on keeping people feeling healthy far later into their lives, which is a serious challenge given the array of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and age-related illnesses that can affect you as you mature.

The solution lies in the advancement of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, fields that focus on improving or repairing parts of the body ranging from complete organs to individual cells.

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Regenerative medicine is somewhat of a holy grail in the wider industry.

The National Institutes of Health, the US Government biomedical research organisation, described its potential impact on humanity: “Imagine a world where there is no donor organ shortage, where victims of spinal cord injuries can walk, and where weakened hearts are replaced. This is the long-term promise of regenerative medicine.”

Methuselah believes that the advancement of this field will lead to cures to the major conditions that hit in old age; everything from heart disease and diabetes to kidney failure and alzheimer’s.

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Methuselah is putting some serious cash into the field to fund research in these fields as it believes not enough is currently being done to further regenerative medicine.

The organisation cites US federal spending as proof of this – tissue engineering gets only $500m per year next to cancer’s $5bn and HIV/AIDS’ $3bn.

At the forefront of the organisation’s research is the New Organ prize – a $1m award for the first team to create a fully-functioning bioengineered replacement liver for a large mammal.

The competition is open to teams from all over the world, and runs until 2018. Soon to follow are similar prizes for the heart, lungs and kidney, which means that if the competitions are successful organ donation could become a thing of the past.

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The Foundation also has a number of other projects up its sleeves. It has provided funding for the development of personalised cancer treatments, the genomic sequencing of 200 year old bowhead whales and prizes for increasing longevity in mice.

Methuselah has also partnered with 3D tissue printing  biotech company Organovo to supply bioprinters to researchers working on tissue engineering, which will bring the breakthrough technology of tissue bioprinting to mainstream research.

Organovo is furthering the field itself – yesterday it announced that it had started contracting for toxicity testing using 3D human liver tissue that the company has developed, which could be valuable new approach to drug development that significantly speeds up the process.


Featured image courtesy of Jonathan Kos-Read.
Body images courtesy of Neil Moralee, Vinoth Chandar and Organovo.


Thinking Digital: Circuit Board Based on Human Brain to Control Advanced Prosthetics

Scientists have created a circuit board modelled on the human brain that is 9,000 times faster and dramatically more power efficient than average PC.

By combining advanced computational capabilities with low power consumption, scientists at Stanford University have created a circuit board that could eventually drive next-generation prosthetic limbs, offering significant advancements on existing chip technology.

The board, known as Neurogrid, is an example of the growing field of neuromorphic computing; the practice of modelling electronic circuits on the structure of the brain and nervous system, the most advanced computer present in nature.

Neurogrid consists of 16 custom Neurocore chips, which when combined can simulate a million neurons and several billion synaptic connections – the connectors between brain cells that allow signals to be sent between them.

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While this is an impressive achievement, it represents only a fraction of the computational power of the human brain, which has an average of 86 billion neurons.

Nevertheless, Neurogrid represents the pinnacle of neuromorphic research, particularly when power consumption is taken into account. The circuit board is around the size of an iPad and requires a similar amount of power, putting it leaps ahead of its competitors when it comes to power output vs energy consumption.

This power efficiency is extremely important in clinical uses as it allows Neurogrid to be incorporated into medical prosthetics and other life-enhancing wearable technologies.

Potentially the technology could be used to operate prosthetics for paralysed users, and if developed it could eventually be used to control such prosthetics as quickly and carefully as we control our own limbs.

However, the technology still faces a major roadblock that must be overcome if it is to be used in this way. At present, programming Neurogrid requires a detailed knowledge of neuroscience, which is an issue for scientists developing Neurogrid-controlled prosthetics.

Lead researcher and Stanford University associate professor of bioengineering Dr Kwabena Boahen is in the process of tackling this issue by creating a neurocompiler that would take over the task.

“We want to create a neurocompiler so that you would not need to know anything about synapses and neurons to able to use one of these,” explained Boahen.

The field of neuromorphic research has a number of projects that could eventually lead to some remarkable breakthroughs for computing.

Among these is the Human Brain Project from the European Union, which is looking to simulate an entire human brain on a supercomputer.

Although in the early stages, this project has the potential to radically impact medicine, neuroscience and computing, potentially one day paving the way for computers that are as complex, or perhaps more so, than the human brain.


Images courtesy of Stanford University.