Sunday, October 30, 2011

Job of the near-future: health advisor

The health advisor is analogous to the financial advisor or mortgage broker that arose last decade when it became possible to trade stocks and get mortgage quotes on the internet. This advisor is familiar with the whole ecosystem of services and service providers in a sector whether finances, home buying and selling, or in this case, personalized health management.

The health advisor designs comprehensive wellness plans that integrate multiple health data streams such as family history, personal health history, genomics, and eventually microbiomic, proteomic and metabolomic profiles. The health advisor would recommend what type of genomic sequencing to sign up for (for example, 23andMe genotyping or Illumina whole human sequencing) and interpret the results and suggest action items. The health advisor would recommend and administer self-tracking programs and gadgets for diet, nutrition, medication and supplementation, exercise, and sleep management. The health advisor would recommend clinical trials or crowdsourced health studies that might be relevant for individuals to join. The health advisor could be compensated with pre-tax HSA (health savings account) dollars or other tax-advantaged funds.

This is a job category of the near future, as health advisor certification programs and wellness coaches are already arising.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Advances in translational antiaging skin research

There are many exciting innovations in translational anti-aging skin research. Personalized genomics is an important emerging field of science being applied to human biology with applications in skin disease risk assessment, wellness profiling, and product response customization.

Simultaneously, there are promising anti-wrinkle remedies being commercialized such as cellular therapies, topical treatments, retinoid and botox substitutes, and advances in skin manufacturing initially developed by the military for battlefield healing are starting to be applied to the aesthetic dermatology market, for example, dermal substitutes, next-generation skin grafting, and spray-on skin.

Excerpted from Translational antiaging skin research.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Complement proteins: possible predictive biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease

Recent research has uncovered more details about how the brain works. As brains develop, the many initially-formed synapses get pruned. How this occurs is important to understand as synapse pruning also occurs in neurodegenerative disease.

In synapse pruning, many mechanisms are operating together in a systems biology fashion, but one key dynamic is that protein molecules (complement proteins C1q and C3) are tagging weak synapses for elimination. For example, complement protein molecules are massively upregulated in Alzheimer’s disease. The Cq1 genes have been shown to come on very early in the case of glaucoma and are proposed to be a global dynamic of synaptic loss in neurodegenerative disease (e.g.; Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, ALS, etc.).

The early and prominent role of complement genes and proteins suggests the possibility of measuring them as a predictive biomarker of neurodegenerative disease.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Steady advance of stem cell therapies

Stem cell research and related therapies (including regenerative medicine and cellular therapies) is an industry with a strong possibility of having a significant near-term impact on worldwide public health. One reason is the industry’s linkage between policy, science, industry, and patient advocacy, as was clear in the attendance and programming at the 7th annual World Stem Cell Summit held in Pasadena CA, October 3-5. Other science-driven fields such as synthetic biology, nanomedicine, and aging might benefit from cultivating such a multi-disciplinary perspective. Stem cell therapies are useful not only in cell-replacement therapies, but also in disease modeling, drug discovery, and drug toxicity screening.

Disease therapeutics and clinical trial focus
Stem cell therapies are currently being applied to over 50 diseases particularly in the areas of heart, lung, neurodegenerative, and eye disease, and cancer and HIV. Dozens of companies are developing therapeutic solutions which are in different stages of clinical use and clinical trials. Some high-profile therapies include Dendreon’s Provenge for prostate cancer, Geron’s first-ever embryonic stem cell trials for spinal cord injury, Fibrocell’s laViv cellular therapy for wrinkles, and well-established commercial skin substitutes (Organogenesis’s Apligraf and Advanced BioHealing’s Dermagraft).

Stem cell policy issues under consideration include medical tourism, standards for large-scale stem cell manufacturing, and lingering ethical debates over the use of embryonic stem cells.

Contemporary stem cell science advances include a focus on techniques for the direct reprogramming of cells from one lineage to another without having to return to pluripotency as an intermediary step, improved means of generating and measuring induced pluripotent cells, and progress in approaches to neurodegenerative disease, for example establishing causal factors for early-onset Parkinson’s disease, generating neuronal cells and dopaminergic cells, and neural stem cell lumbar implantation clinical trials.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Blood Tests 2.0 advances with dried blood spot testing

Moving into an era of preventive medicine and health self-hacking, blood tests 2.0 is an obvious area for expected innovation, moving whole classes of blood tests from $100+ lab-administered arm draws to fingerstick tests conducted at home. One of the most promising techniques for realizing blood tests 2.0 is dried blood spot (DBS) testing. From a biochemistry perspective, the volume of blood taken in a serum draw is not required for many tests; a few drops would be adequate for many tests. Some exciting recent progress in dried blood spot testing was announced with NanoInk’s protein biomarker detection platform, based on dip pen nanolithography, which was used to identify and quantitate four clinically-relevant cytokines. The technology cannot detect everything, but could possibly be used to identify hundreds of proteins, and pave the way for low-cost home blood marker monitoring.

Home-administered fingerstick tests are already available for several markers, although the cost is not necessarily cheaper and a health care professional may still need to be involved. Blood spots from a fingerstick are placed on filter paper to dry and then sent to a lab for analysis. Tests are available for vitamin D, hormone levels (including estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol), cardiometabolic markers (including insulin, high sensitivity C-reactive protein, total, HDL and LDL cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c, and triglycerides) from ZRT Labs. Theoretically, dozens of blood tests could be re-invented as fingerstick tests that are self-administered and interpreted in easy diagnostic readers or mobile-phone attached sensors.