mTOR inhibitors appear to boost the immune system of older adults

A recent clinical trial found that mTOR inhibitors–two experimental anti-aging drugs–both reduced the number of respiratory infections and boosted “people’s responses to the flu vaccine.”

The trial involved 264 volunteers aged 65 and over.  Some of the volunteers received low doses of both drugs–which appeared to be the most effective treatment.  All participants were monitored subsequently for one year.

mTOR inhibitors “appear to broadly rejuvenate immune function in healthy elderly people.”  Other tests with these drugs in mice have shown that they can “extend lifespan and revitalize the immune system and organs which deteriorate in old age.”

As people grow older, their immune systems weaken.  Infections happen more frequently, and vaccines don’t work as well.  If drugs–like mTOR inhibitors–can boost the immune systems of older people, ” they could help to protect the whole population from infections.”

More research is needed; however, “this study raises the real possibility that most middle-aged adults could benefit from short-term treatments with mTOR inhibitors.”

Read the article (Layal Liverpool, The Guardian, July 11, 2018).

Nighttime temperatures are warming faster

More impact from climate change–at one point this month (July 2018), “more than 100 million people” in the United States were under heat warnings or advisories.  While high daytime temperatures and humidity were most noticeable, it was the nighttime temperatures that were having the greatest impact.

“Nationwide, summer nights have warmed at nearly twice the rate of days”; overnight low temperatures have increased an average of 1.4 degrees F since 1895; daytime temperatures have increased an average of 0.7 degrees per century.  And, nighttime temperatures have warmed faster than days in the winter, spring, and fall as well.

This pattern is expected to continue …

While the change in temperatures may seem small, the consequences are very large.

Most years, heat waves kill more people in the U.S. than any other natural disaster including floods and hurricanes.  “The combination of high daytime and high nighttime temperatures can be really lethal because the body doesn’t have a chance to cool down during the nighttime hours.”  And, “the risks are higher in places where temperatures have historically been cooler.”  Older people, the sick, young children, outdoor workers, and the homeless are particularly at risk.  In cities, where the heat island effect exacerbates high temperatures, it is often the poor and /or minority residents who are more likely to live in the hotter areas.

Yes, air conditioning can help.  But, air conditioners work by sending hot air outside–where it can add to the heat island effect in urban areas.  Plus, air conditioning is a major player in climate change globally, and increased air conditioner use during heat waves is a factor in power failures.

This is another impact of climate change that is real and is happening today–read the article, see the graphs (Kendra Pierre-Louis and Nadja Popovich, New York Times, July 11, 2018).

A pet medicine may protect humans against disease

Diseases like the Zika virus and malaria are spread by mosquitoes and fleas; it’s a problem worldwide especially in the developing world but also in wealthier countries as well.  To prevent the spread of Zika, malaria, and other diseases, insecticides and bed nets are currently often used.  “Vaccines are also under development … but few are approved for use.”

A recent study suggests another possible treatment–isoxazolines.  These drugs are currently approved for use in dogs to protect against fleas and ticks.

The study suggests that a single dose of 260 to 410 mg in humans could help protect against mosquito and sand fly bites for 50 to 90 days.

Isoxazolines are seen more as a rapid response option in areas where diseases like Zika and malaria are widespread.  Researchers estimate that giving doses of these drugs to a third of the people living in outbreak areas could prevent up to 97% of Zika infections and 70+% of new cases of malaria.

More research is needed to “prove the safety and effectiveness” of these drugs in humans.  The current use of isoxazolines in dogs, however, could shorten the drug development process.

Read the article (Alexandra Sifferlin, Time, July 2, 2018).

 

Discovering new genes behind human intelligence and mental health

Recent studies using “a new statistical method called MAGMA” to analyze the health and genetic records of over 6 million people have identified over 1,000 new genes linked to human intelligence and over 500 new genes “associated with neurotic traits.”

The analysis suggests that higher intelligence is linked with a longer life span and less chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD, or schizophrenia.  In contrast, genes linked to intelligence are also “correlated with a higher risk for autism.”

These studies provide “hard evidence of the many genes and pathways” that are involved in human intelligence and mental health.  For instance, another indication is that people who suffer from excessive anxiety inherit different genes than people who are depressed.

While it has long been known that humans can “inherit intelligence and some personality disorders from their parents,” these studies provide confirmation.  However, environmental factors like education and stress also play a significant role.

The results of these studies can potentially point the way toward “new ways to improve education, or therapies to treat neurotic behavior.”

Read the article (Ann Gibbons, Science, June 25, 2018).

Bees survive better in cities compared to open agricultural land

Bumblebees are vital pollinators for flowers and crops.  But, bee populations have been declining world-wide due to “pesticides, disease, and habitat loss.”

A recent study sought to track and explain anecdotal evidence that more bees are being found in urban areas.

In the study, more than 100 bee colonies were planted in 38 different locations [in England] ranging “from London’s city center to surrounding villages, suburbs, and farms.”

Bee colonies “placed in agricultural fields produced fewer reproductive offspring and fewer workers, and their queens died sooner.”  These colonies broke down faster and had “fewer nutrient resources.”  In comparison, colonies in suburbs and colonies in the center of the City did much better.

Why?  The monoculture of today’s corporate agriculture generally produces fewer and less diverse “floral resources” and a greater level of pesticides than suburbs and cities.  While the city is not at all ideal for bees, bees appear to be able to successfully exploit the city environment to their advantage for survival.

While this news is somewhat positive, the greater challenge is to make modern agriculture more friendly to bees–a vital part of human food production.  “It’s really starting to become quite clear that agricultural areas are generally quite bad for wildlife.”

Read the article (JoAnna Klein, New York Times, June 27, 2018).

Looking to the past for an alternative to cement

“More than 20 billion tons of concrete is produced around the world every year”–to fuel the building boom in cities as more and more people globally move to urban areas.

But, all that concrete has a large environmental cost.  “Cement, the main ingredient in concrete, creates 5% of global carbon emissions.”

Concrete is “sand and gravel held together with cement.”  The Romans “used a mixture of volcanic ash and lime to make concrete.”  And, Roman concrete structures have stood for thousands of years.

Now, engineers working in the United States have created a new material that could replace cement in the production of concrete.  They have used fly ash (“fine particles formed when coal is burned in power plants”); fly ash is similar to volcanic ash.  Using statistical analysis, the engineers determined the best ratio for combining fly ash with other ingredients and the optimum  type of fly ash to use.

Tests are showing that concrete made from this fly ash binder is “just as strong as conventional cement-based concrete after seven days.”

More testing awaits, but the new material and its “reduced CO2 footprint” may provide a low-cost, more environmentally-friendly binder for future building.  Plus, the use of fly ash reduces waste from coal-fired power plants.

Read the article (Prachi Patel, Quartz, June 26, 2018).

Solar windows and the future of building

“Houses and office buildings account for 75% of electricity use in the United States, and 40% of its energy use overall.”  And, all the windows in these buildings can be a problem–letting in heat or cold while leaking cooling or heating energy.

But, several research teams are working on ways to solve this problem.

Newer solar window technologies “absorb almost exclusively invisible ultraviolet (UV) or infrared light.”  That leaves the glass clear–a major step forward–while blocking the UV and infrared radiation that normally leaks through it.

By cutting heat gain while generating some power, these solar windows can reduce energy use while also supplying some of the building’s energy needs–plus, they are a step up aesthetically from older solar windows that are more opaque and can have a reddish or brownish tint.

Along these lines, research teams are working on various related technologies; from “developing a UV-absorbing perovskite solar window that can produce enough energy to power on-demand darkening glass that halts intense light in the heat of the day”–reducing the need for air conditioning.  To using “luminescent solar concentrators” or “quantum dots” in windows to absorb UV and infrared light, convert it into light that regular solar cells can capture, and shunt that light sideways to solar cells in the window frame.  With this technology, solar windows could be relatively inexpensive.

Challenges remain–testing window durability and dealing with the small amount of toxic material used in many solar window technologies.  But, down the road, “it’s a safe bet to expect that future buildings won’t draw all their power from the grid.  They will generate it, too.”

Read the article (Robert F. Service, Science, June 28, 2018).