Archive for March, 2009

Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?

Alcohol definitely has an effect on people in the neurological sense, however, do those effects have consequences for the next day, week, month, or year?

…is the impairment permanent or temporary? Some people believe that the consequences of drinking alcohol are far worse than a nasty hangover, that it can actually lead to brain damage because alcohol kills brain cells.

First, it help to understand what goes on when a person is impaired by alcohol.

It is not the brain cells themselves but the nerve connections between them (called dendrites) which are most affected by alcohol. The communication signals are inhibited, thus slowing down mental processing and the central nervous system.

So the good news is that a night of drinking will not kill your brain cells. The bad news is that long term binge drinking has many negative consequences, including neurological deficits. We’ll go into that in more detail at some point in the future.

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Fascinating stuff, definitely worth checking out if you have an interest in longevity research. It’s not very long, and will give you a general idea of what’s going on in this field.

Gregory Stock is a biophysicist, best-selling author, biotech entrepreneur, and the director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at UCLA’s School of Medicine. He has written extensively on the implications for society, medicine and business of the human genome project and associated developments in molecular genetics and bioinformatics. His interests lie in the scientific and evolutionary as well as ethical, social and political implications of today’s revolutions in the life sciences and in information technology and computers.

The following transcript of Gregory Stock’s presentation at the Methuselah Foundation symposium entitled “Aging: The Disease, The Cure, The Implications” has been corrected and approved by the speaker. Video is also available.

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Here’s a whole bunch of “just around the corner” advances which will have an impact on health and medicine within the next 5 – 10 years. Some are already undergoing clinical trials.

The list:

  1. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) In TMS, magnetic pulses created by a metal coil attached to the scalp generate small electrical currents in the brain; these stimulate nerve cells in areas involved in depression—without harming surrounding gray matter.
  2. Stem Cell ScaffoldTo pinch-hit for missing tissue at an injury site, stem cells need a scaffold to grow on—but artificial materials such as plastic won’t do, since the body flags and rejects them as foreign sub­stances.
  3. Instant DiagnosisThe device he’s designed detects thousands of different biological molecules in a single exhalation, creating a snapshot of the breath’s contents that could signal the presence of illnesses, from cancer to cystic fibrosis.
  4. Pre-emptive Strike Against CancerDerived from acids in plants, CDDO-Im activates natural enzymes that remove toxic compounds from cells—compounds that might otherwise create DNA mutations that lead to cancer.
  5. Implantable Nanowire If Zhong Lin Wang has his way, routine blood-pressure checks at the doctor’s office will soon be a thing of the past. The Georgia Institute of Technology physicist has designed an implantable nanowire that measures pressure fluctuations constantly, enabling patients to track their vital stats from home.
  6. Superbug ZapperArizona State physicist K.T. Tsen has developed the ultimate multipurpose treatment tool: a superfast infrared laser that zaps bacteria and viruses without harming surrounding tissue.
  7. Targeted DeliveryTo help patients avoid side-effect doldrums, researchers at Philips’s pharmaceutical division are developing the medical equivalent of a targeted missile-delivery system.
  8. Bloodstream Bot – A mosquito-size robot developed by Oded Salomon, an engineer at Israel’s Technion Institute, may be able to pull off these surgical feats without making large incisions—so recuperation is much faster.
  9. EKG UntetheredWake up in the morning, stick a featherweight patch on your chest and tackle your day with the assurance that computers are keeping a constant eye on your ticker.
  10. Nano Cancer FightersThe particles have substances on their surfaces that make them home in on the cancer—one type contains a peptide that binds to proteins found in a tumor’s vessel linings.

Read the whole article for all the juicy details.

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We’re pretty sure that most people don’t look forward to aging. Sure, there are benefits to being older, such as being wiser and forcing other people to change your depends, but the negatives are too great.

… 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.

Thinking about all the bad stuff that goes on in our body does not put us in a happy place. Fortunately, scientists are getting older too and seem to be working hard on a solution for all of us.

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.

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