In this week’s Sunday Science: a futuristic drug delivery system, clothing that responds to environmental conditions, diabetes treatments, ageing, the anniversary of the periodic table, and how (not) to minimise a hangover after drinking alcohol…
One problem with treating type 1 diabetes is that insulin must be injected, which isn’t great (who likes injections?). This applies to a lot of drugs that would otherwise be broken down in the stomach. There may be a way around it though: swallowing a tiny pill that has a microneedle which injects into your stomach lining instead (without damaging it), after orienting itself correctly. I can see a lot of potential for this. I can also see a scifi film with Tom Cruise being poisoned when somebody switches his insulin pill for a “truth serum” or something to discover government secrets. Original article here (paywalled). There’s a nice video here:
Looking more ambitiously ahead, being able to replace the insulin-producing beta cells that are lost in type 1 diabetes is a long-term treatment goal for the disease. A new study shows a way of improving the maturation of beta cells derived from human stem cell cultures, by focusing on making the cell’s environment more closely mimic natural conditions. Original article here (both paywalled, unfortunately).
“Beer before wine and you’ll feel fine?” Apparently not. How hungover you feel depends on how drunk you felt the night before, and if you were sick. Which really should be obvious, but it’s so easy to reach for those pieces of folk wisdom! Original study here (I imagine they had little trouble finding recruits).
The first material that gains or loses heat depending on the environmental conditions has been developed. It’s an artificial yarn that has a coating of carbon nanotubes that respond to temperature and humidity. In warm and humid conditions (such as when you’re hot and sweaty) it allows heat to pass through, but traps heat when it’s colder. The original research is published in Science, here (paywalled).
One of the main aims of improving health in old age is to reduce the risk of cognitive decline, and there’s evidence to suggest that enriching life experiences can help guard against cognitive decline. But a new paper argues that our cognitive ability in old age is largely fixed by the time we’re 20 years old. The researchers suggest that a high general ability at a young age drives those people to seek additional education and enriching life experiences that help preserve this ability later in life. Link is to an opinion piece; original article here. Both these are paywalled, but the abstracts are fine for the non-specialist. A ScienceDaily article can be found here.
Staying with ageing, what are the mechanisms that cause cells to start getting old, becoming less efficient at their functions? There are lots of different factors, but one slightly surprising one is that senescence, cellular aging, seems to involve the re-activation of “jumping genes”, or retrotransposons. These are sections of DNA, often derived from ancient viruses, that are able to catalyse their insertion into other locations in the genome. When cells senesce, some of these retrotransposons are activated and insert into other parts of the DNA, causing damage. Original research paper here (paywalled).
And finally, it was recently the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev’s first draft of the periodic table. Here’s a nice little history of the ideas that preceded it. And here’s a version of the periodic table with a haiku for every element.
Drug capsule that could be used to deliver insulin. Felice Frankel, MIT. Science 08 Feb 2019: Vol. 363, Issue 6427, pp. 611-615 DOI: 10.1126/science.aau2277