Last week, Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of the underlying mechanisms of autophagy. Autophagy, literally “self-eating,” is a mechanism that cells use to recycle contents and is involved in many processes, including providing cellular fuel and building blocks, eliminating bacteria, viruses and damaged proteins and for embryo development and cell differentiation. Dr. Oshumi conducted experiments in the 1990s that devised a way to study autophagy in yeast, and elucidated the underlying mechanisms and genes involved in the process, which are also used in human cells. Autophagy is also implicated in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well cancer. His discoveries allowed us to understand underlying mechanism of these diseases and develop therapeutic targets against them.
Dr. Ohsumi has announced he will invest some of his $930,000 prize money into funding more basic biochemical research, which may uncover new mechanisms implicated at the source of disease.
In very big, but very small news, the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to researchers for the design and synthesis of molecular machines. The machines are like tiny robots, able to perform tasks such as lifting and pushing; they even built a tiny car. The machines are built using mere molecules and are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. The three scientists who were awarded the prize not only built the structures, but have developed ways to control and stimulate them with energy. These motors and devices are so small that they can connect individual amino acids.
The machines are in the very early stages of development but the open up a world of possibilities for therapeutics in the future e.g. for drug delivery via robots that can travel through the body, or in developing precision chemotherapeutics.
We typically rely on clinical trial registers, academic journals and regulatory documents for all our clinical trial information, however the details are not always up to date and it can be a mission to find specific information. This week, a new database was launched that aims to overcome these issues and make clinical trial information much more widely accessible and transparent. OpenTrials is directed by Dr. Ben Goldacre, high-profile campaigner for transparency in pharmaceuticals, with funding from the Open Knowledge Foundation and Center for Open Science. The site aims to be a central hub for all information pertaining to all clinical trials and any user can submit information. The site is currently in beta testing mode and is scheduled for completion in early 2017.
This marks a move to greater transparency in pharma, which is often criticized for not publishing results from failed trials or making all data freely and publically available. This will have benefits for all parties, making it easier for patients to find suitable clinical trials and for researchers to have access to complete data from trials.
Check out the new site: here
A study was published in Nature claiming that the maximum age humans could ever reach is 115. The study looked at global epidemiological data and found that, although average human life span has been steadily increasing over the last few centuries due to improved nutrition and healthcare, the maximum age reached has plateaued since 1980.
The researchers concluded that 115 years is the natural limit to human lifespan. They conceded there will be outliers, such as Jeanne Calment – the oldest verifiable person, who died at 122.
This study has proved controversial. Many agree that there must be natural limit to human lifespan, however others argue that the analysis has not taken future advances in medicine into account (e.g. genetic manipulation), or that some countries have not yet seen their maximum lifespan plateau e.g. Japan and France.