Scientists are looking for 10,000 good dogs to take part in a 10-year effort aimed at tracking their health and identifying factors that can lengthen their lifespan. The pets that are selected for the Dog Aging Project could come in for some scientific pampering, including genome sequencing and health assessments. But that doesn't mean the project's organizers at the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and other research institutions are totally going to the dogs. The larger purpose of the campaign — and the reason why it's getting $15 million in direct funding from the National Institute on Aging at… Read More
SpaceX went the distance today with a static-fire test of its Crew Dragon space taxi's launch escape system — the same type of test that ended in a costly explosion when it was conducted in April. A photo released after the firing shows the Crew Dragon's SuperDraco thrusters blazing away on the test stand at SpaceX's Florida facility. The full-duration firing brings the company one step closer to flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station next year. "SpaceX and NASA teams are now reviewing test data and working toward an in-flight demonstration of Crew Dragon's launch escape system," SpaceX… Read More
Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft and its science team bid a bittersweet farewell to the asteroid Ryugu, 180 million miles from Earth, and began the months-long return trip to Earth with a precious set of samples. "This is an emotional moment!" the team tweeted on Tuesday. “It's sad to say goodbye to Ryugu,” project manager Yuichi Tsuda said at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's command center. “Literally it has been at the center of our lives over the past one and a half years.” The farewell isn't finished quite yet, however. Over the next few days, Hayabusa 2's camera will capture… Read More
Next time you visit your hairdresser spare a thought for the pigeons. For a long time scientists thought the fact that pigeons in urban environments often lost their toes was due to some form of infection, or was a reaction to chemical pollutants. The team from the National Museum of Natural History and the University of Lyon recorded the occurrence and extent of toe mutilations from pigeons eking out their time in 46 sites across Paris.
The snowman-shaped object that NASA's New Horizons probe flew past nearly a year ago on the solar system's icy fringe now has a Native American name: Arrokoth, a word that means "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. Arrokoth replaces earlier labels for the Kuiper Belt object, including the numerical designation 2014 MU69 and the nickname Ultima Thule, which turned out to be rather controversial. Members of the New Horizons science team announced today that their proposed name has won approval by the International Astronomical Union and its Minor Planet Center. Before making the proposal, the scientists won the consent of elders… Read More
Investigators said vitamin E acetate, an ingredient found in canola, soy, and corn oil, appears to be playing a pivotal role in the spate of vaping-related lung illnesses during a call with reporters on Friday.
For want of a pin, the use of a spaceship's parachute was lost. That may be a simplistic way to explain why one of the three parachutes on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner space taxi failed to open. It does, however, serve as a cautionary tale about the one obvious glitch in Monday's pad abort test of the Starliner, a craft that's due to start transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station next year. Overall, the test was judged a success: The uncrewed Starliner fired the rocket engines on its launch abort system, slowed its descent with the aid… Read More
For the first time in more than 40 years, NASA has opened up a pristine sample of moon dirt and rocks that was collected during the Apollo missions. Scientists hope that a close analysis of the material from a 2-foot-long, nearly 2-inch-wide core sample will help astronauts get ready for a new series of Artemis moon missions in the 2020s. When Apollo's moonwalkers collected samples of lunar soil and rock, also known as regolith, some of those samples were tucked away at NASA's Johnson Space Center with the expectation that analytical tools would improve over the course of the decades… Read More
The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of Seattle's Allen Institute, is making a total of $7.5 million in awards to its latest class of five biomedical researchers. The themes for this year's Allen Distinguished Investigators focus on stem cell therapies and single-cell interactions in their native environments. “The field of stem cell biology has the potential to change how we treat diseases by helping precision medicine, and there’s so much we still don’t understand about the interplay between cells in living tissues or organs,” Kathy Richmond, director of the Frontiers Group, said today in a news release. "Our… Read More
Seattle-based Spaceflight says it's handling the pre-launch logistics for a Japanese satellite that's designed to spray artificial shooting stars into the sky. Tokyo-based ALE's spacecraft is just one of seven satellites due to be sent into orbit from New Zealand as early as Nov. 25, aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle. It'll be the 10th Electron launch, earning the nickname "Running Out of Fingers." It'll also be the first launch to test the guidance and navigation hardware as well as the sensors that Rocket Lab will eventually use to help make the Electron's first stage recoverable. No recovery will… Read More
Boeing says it has submitted its proposal for a lunar lander capable of putting astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024, joining a competition that includes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture and most likely SpaceX as well. Today marked the deadline for submissions. NASA says it's aiming to select at least two proposed landing systems by January for further development. Two separate teams could be selected to build landers for moon missions in 2024 and 2025. NASA envisions a system that includes a transfer vehicle to ferry a lander from a lunar-orbiting Gateway outpost to… Read More
The woman's genetic profile showed she would develop Alzheimer's by the time she turned 50.A member of the world's largest family to suffer from Alzheimer's, she, like generations of her relatives, was born with a gene mutation that causes people to begin having memory and thinking problems in their 40s and deteriorate rapidly toward death around age 60.But remarkably, she experienced no cognitive decline at all until her 70s, nearly three decades later than expected.How did that happen? New research provides an answer, one that experts say could change the scientific understanding of Alzheimer's disease and inspire new ideas about how to prevent and treat it.In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers say the woman, whose name they withheld to protect her privacy, has another mutation that has protected her from dementia even though her brain has developed a major neurological feature of Alzheimer's disease.This ultra rare mutation appears to help stave off the disease by minimizing the binding of a particular sugar compound to an important gene. That finding suggests that treatments could be developed to give other people that same protective mechanism."I'm very excited to see this new study come out -- the impact is dramatic," said Dr. Yadong Huang, a senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes, who was not involved in the research. "For both research and therapeutic development, this new finding is very important."A drug or gene therapy would not be available any time soon because scientists first need to replicate the protective mechanism found in this one patient by testing it in laboratory animals and human brain cells.Still, this case comes at a time when the Alzheimer's field is craving new approaches after billions of dollars have been spent on developing and testing treatments and some 200 drug trials have failed. It has been more than 15 years since the last treatment for dementia was approved, and the few drugs available do not work very well for very long.The woman is entering her late 70s now and lives in Medellin, the epicenter for an extended Colombian family of about 6,000 people whose members have been plagued with dementia for centuries, a condition they called "La Bobera" -- "the foolishness" -- and attributed to superstitious causes.Decades ago, a Colombian neurologist, Dr. Francisco Lopera, began painstakingly collecting the family's birth and death records in Medellin and remote Andes mountain villages. He documented the sprawling family tree and took dangerous risks in guerrilla and drug-trafficking territory to cajole relatives of people who died with dementia into giving him their brains for analysis.Through this work, Lopera, whose brain bank at the University of Antioquia now contains 300 brains, helped discover that their Alzheimer's was caused by a mutation on a gene called Presenilin 1.While this type of hereditary early-onset dementia accounts for only a small proportion of the roughly 30 million people worldwide with Alzheimer's, it is important because unlike most forms of Alzheimer's, the Colombian version has been traced to a specific cause and a consistent pattern. So Lopera and a team of American scientists have spent years studying the family, searching for answers both to help the Colombians and to address the mounting epidemic of the more typical old-age Alzheimer's disease.When they found that the woman had the Presenilin 1 mutation, but had not yet even developed a pre-Alzheimer's condition called mild cognitive impairment, the scientists were mystified."We have a single person who is resilient to Alzheimer's disease when she should be at high risk," said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix and a leader of the research team.The woman was flown to Boston, where some of the researchers are based, for brain scans and other tests. Those results were puzzling, said Yakeel Quiroz, a Colombian neuropsychologist who directs the familial dementia neuroimaging lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.The woman's brain was laden with the foremost hallmark of Alzheimer's: plaques of amyloid protein."The highest levels of amyloid that we have seen so far," said Quiroz, adding that the excessive amyloid probably accumulated because the woman has lived much longer than other family members with the Alzheimer's-causing mutation.But the woman had few other neurological signs of the disease -- not much of a protein called tau, which forms tangles in Alzheimer's brains, and little neurodegeneration or brain atrophy."Her brain was functioning really well," said Quiroz, who, like Reiman, is a senior author of the study. "Compared to people who are 45 or 50, she's actually better."She said the woman, who raised four children, had only one year of formal education and could barely read or write, so it was unlikely her cognitive protection came from educational stimulation."She has a secret in her biology," Lopera said. "This case is a big window to discover new approaches."Quiroz consulted Dr. Joseph Arboleda-Velasquez, who, like her, is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School (he is also Quiroz's husband). Arboleda-Velasquez, a cell biologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, conducted extensive genetic testing and sequencing, determining that the woman has an extremely rare mutation on a gene called APOE.APOE is important in general-population Alzheimer's. One variant, APOE4, present in about 14% of people, greatly increases risk and is present in 40% of people with Alzheimer's. People with another variant, APOE2, occurring in about 7% of the population, are less likely to develop Alzheimer's, while those with the most common variant, APOE3, are in the middle.The Colombian woman has two copies of APOE3, but both copies have a mutation called Christchurch (for the New Zealand city where it was discovered). The Christchurch mutation is extremely rare, but several years ago, Reiman's daughter Rebecca, a technologist, helped determine that a handful of Colombian family members have that mutation on one of their APOE genes. They developed Alzheimer's as early as their relatives, though -- unlike the woman with mutations on both APOE genes."The fact that she had two copies, not just one, really kind of sealed the deal," Arboleda-Velasquez said.The woman's mutation is in an area of the APOE gene that binds with a sugar-protein compound called heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPG), which is involved in spreading tau in Alzheimer's disease.In laboratory experiments, the researchers found that the less a variant of APOE binds to HSPG, the less it is linked to Alzheimer's. With the Christchurch mutation, there was barely any binding.That, said Arboleda-Velasquez, "was the piece that completed the puzzle because, 'Oh, this is how the mutation has such a strong effect.'"Researchers were also able to develop a compound that, in laboratory dish experiments, mimicked the action of the mutation, suggesting it's possible to make drugs that prevent APOE from binding to HSPG.Dr. Guojun Bu, who studies APOE, said that while the findings involved a single case and more research is needed, the implications could be profound."When you have delayed onset of Alzheimer's by three decades, you say wow," said Bu, chairman of the neuroscience department at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, who was not involved in the study.He said the research suggests that instead of drugs attacking amyloid or tau, which have failed in many clinical trials, a medication or gene therapy targeting APOE could be promising.Reiman, who led another newly published study showing that APOE has a bigger impact on a person's risk of getting Alzheimer's than previously thought, said potential treatments could try to reduce or even silence APOE activity in the brain. People born without APOE appear to have no cognitive problems, but they do have very high cholesterol that requires treatment.Huang, who wrote a commentary about the study and is affiliated with two companies focusing on potential APOE-related treatments, said the findings also challenge a leading Alzheimer's theory about the role of amyloid.Since the woman had huge amounts of amyloid but few other Alzheimer's indicators, "it actually illustrates, to my knowledge for the first time, a very clear dissociation of amyloid accumulation from tau pathology, neurodegeneration and even cognitive decline," he said.Lopera said the woman is just beginning to develop dementia, and he recently disclosed her genetic profile to her four adult children, who each have only one copy of the Christchurch mutation.The researchers are also evaluating a few other members of the Colombian family, who appear to also have some resistance to Alzheimer's. They are not as old as the woman, and they do not have the Christchurch mutation, but the team hopes to find other genetic factors from studying them and examine whether those factors operate along the same or different biological pathways, Reiman said."We've learned that at least one individual can live for very long having the cause of Alzheimer's, and she's resistant to it," Arboleda-Velasquez said. "What this patient is teaching is there could be a pathway for correcting the disease."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
Boeing cleared a key milestone for launching NASA astronauts on its CST-100 Starliner space taxi today by executing an end-to-end test of its rocket-powered launch abort system — a test that did what it needed to do even though one of the craft's three parachutes didn't open. Data from the pad abort test at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico will be fully analyzed in advance of an uncrewed Starliner mission to the International Space Station and back, currently scheduled for a Dec. 17 launch, Boeing and NASA said. “Tests like this one are crucial to… Read More
Northrop Grumman launched a robotic Cygnus cargo capsule to the International Space Station today, marking one giant leap for a small satellite built by students at the University of Washington and Seattle's Raisbeck Aviation High School. The 7-pound HuskySat-1 was among 8,200 pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific payloads packed aboard the Cygnus for liftoff atop Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket at 9:59 a.m. ET (6:59 a.m. PT) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast. Hundreds of onlookers cheered as the rocket rose into sunny skies after a trouble-free countdown. "Good launch all the way around," launch conductor Adam… Read More