CR4 - The Engineer's Place for News and Discussion®
Login | Register for Engineering Community (CR4)

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Would You Choose to Live to 120?

Posted November 19, 2015 2:56 PM by Jonathan Fuller
Pathfinder Tags: life extension

Some time ago I read a mind-shattering, kinda-fictional book called Einstein's Dreams, a series of short stories speculating about Einstein's dreaming activity while working on his theory of relativity. Most of these dreams were about radical conceptions of time, and one particularly poignant story imagined that people lived forever, an idea that's often heralded as desirable, a la the Fountain of Youth or the Holy Grail.

In the story, though, things play out in a less utopian way, and all of society splits into two factions: people who embrace living forever, and those who find it unbearable and ritually kill themselves at a preordained age. The latter group chooses this path because, bluntly, their ancestors refuse to die off. So instead of only their mothers hounding them about getting married or quitting smoking or the like, they're also pestered by their immortal grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, ad nauseum. Hence the ritual suicide.

Fast forwarding to 2015, life extension science is a legitimate thing, at least according to futurists. A 2013 issue of National Geographic ran a feature story on the genes behind longevity behind a cover displaying a baby and the caption "This Baby Will Live to 120," a statement many are beginning to believe. Beyond the technoscientific question of "how," the question of "why" and the ramifications of a longer lifespan might not be answerable, at least at this point.

Proponents of life extension--sometimes called experimental gerontology or anti-aging medicine--have presented a number of possible strategies for extending one's life. Most currently discussed methods focus on herbs and antioxidant supplements, but some of the more far-fetched options include caloric restriction (identified by research as a front-runner), cloning of failing body parts, cryonics (ahem, Ted Williams), and, on the sci-fi side, "mind uploading" into a new, fresher body.

Extending human longevity is historically viewed as an improvement; the fact that global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900 makes me want to get up and scream "Yay, science!" And numerous literary and religious works, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Bible, promote the idea that a long, possibly eternal life is desirable. Many scientists since Francis Bacon have viewed their work, at least in part, as involving the abolishment or delay of death.

The possibility of longer human lives raises a host of problems, however. Similar to Einstein's dream, the world would be packed with ever-increasing numbers of advanced-age individuals, likely requiring additional care and loads of medication to stay healthy. And interestingly, a 2013 Pew study found that over half of survey respondents answered the question, "Would you choose to undergo medical treatments to slow the aging process and live to 120 or more" with a resounding "no." A similarly sized group figured that life extension was a bad idea because longer life spans would put an increased strain on America's natural resources, and that life extension procedures would probably be exclusive to wealthy individuals anyway. Two-thirds of respondents said they'd like to live between 79 and 100, curiously just above the current US life expectancy of 78.8 years.

Shaky public opinion as to whether this topic is "good" hasn't deterred passionate life extension activists. There are grassroots communities like the catchily titled Death is Obsolete blog. On the political side there have been Longevity parties--groups advocating life extension research and transhumanism in general--in Russia, the US, and other countries since 2012.

Practical life extension is still a pipe dream, of course, and any idea seems weird to the populace when it's first introduced. Personally, I'd prefer to exit the world on my body's terms and be replaced by a "newer model"--hopefully in the form of my kids.

Image credit: Boston Public Library / CC BY 2.0

7 comments; last comment on 11/20/2015
View/add comments

The Dangers of Fruit

Posted November 17, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

During the holidays apple pie starts replacing actual apples in many of our diets. In order to hold off on gaining a few extra holiday pounds it's a good idea to replace a snack of left over Halloween candy with a piece of fruit. But can too much fruit actually be a problem?

Fruit is loaded with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and (if you believe hard enough) they can satisfy your sweet tooth. But if you don't watch your intake, you could be overloading on sugar without even realizing it. Image Credit:

According to Brigitte Zeitlin, a dietitian at B-Nutritious, even though the sugar, known as fructose, is coming from a healthy source, it still needs to be moderated. Fructose, the only type of sugar found in fruits, is metabolized in the liver, as opposed to in the blood stream. Most people have felt the effect of a sugar high. And too much glucose, a sugar commonly found in refined carbohydrates such as white-flour baked goods, is a known precursor to type 2 diabetes.

Fruit juices are also problematic. Since juice is liquid it doesn't have to go through as much processing before it hits your bloodstream, where it can spike your sugar levels. If you must drink juice, try one watered-down glass a day.

Zeitlin notes that fructose can also play a role in diabetes. "Your liver turns any excess sugar intake into triglycerides that get stored in fat cells throughout the body," says Zeitlin. "The more sugar you eat, the more fat you store." Too much fructose can lead to a buildup of visceral belly fat that has been linked to type 2 diabetes. Image Credit:

Please be aware that no one is recommending you stop eating fruit! Not only is it delicious, but it also provides nutrients and vitamins that our bodies need - it is also always a better option than candy, baked goods, or highly processed packaged snacks. This article is recommending that people try to keep their fruit consumption to two servings of fruit per day (maybe three) and go easy on juices.

8 comments; last comment on 11/23/2015
View/add comments

Don't be Myopic About Going Outside

Posted April 17, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

I got my first pair of glasses when I was 14 years old because I couldn't read the board from the back of the classroom. I remember walking out of the store and being surprised that I was able to read the names of stored across the parking lot - I didn't know I should have been able to see them.

But I am hardly alone in needing glasses, and nearsightedness is reaching epidemic status. More than 2.5 billion people around the world will have myopia by 2020. This problem is especially prevalent in China, where 90% of teenagers are nearsighted.

Myopia, also called nearsightedness, is caused by a slightly elongated eyeball, which means that the light is focused just in front of the retina instead of on it. The danger of myopia comes when the deformation stretches and thins the inner parts of the eye, which increases the risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, glaucoma, and event blindness. Image Credit

A recent article in Nature magazine (very interesting read) points to an interesting hypothesis behind the cause of all the nearsightedness: kids are staying indoors for too long these days. The hypothesis is based on several studies showing kids who spent more time indoors had a higher risk of developing myopia. And before you get to bashing computers - it's not the lack of physical activity that's causing the problem, it's the lack of exposure to bright light.

The eye grows throughout childhood and outdoor light promotes eye growth. One researcher encourages kids to spend at least three hours a day exposed to bright light - the equivalent of sitting under a tree wearing sunglasses.

Unfortunately, if you're already nearsighted it's too late to fix it with sunlight. But going outside is probably good for you anyway.

11 comments; last comment on 04/22/2015
View/add comments

Memories and Men

Posted April 07, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Sometimes it's nice to have science back up what we (and by 'we' I mean women) already know - that women have better memories than men. Not only is a man's memory worse than a woman's, but the part of the brain that controls memories is smaller in men.

Dr. Clifford Jack of the Mayo Clinic and fellow researchers studied a group of 1,246 cognitively normal people between the ages of 30 and 95. Overall they found that while memory started to decline for both sexes at age 30, male memory was worse than females' overall, especially after age 40.

Image Credit

This is due, in part, to the hippocampus being smaller in men than women, especially after age 60. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that controls memory.

"It's true, women's brains are smaller than men's brains, but brain size scales with your height," Jack said. "And so if you correct for head size, which we did, women's hippocampus and verbal memory is better than men's."

The protective effects of hormones keep a woman's hippocampus larger, especially estrogen which has been shown to shield pre-menopausal women from hypertension, bone loss, and heart disease. Progesterone, luteinizing hormone, and blood volume also help increase and maintain a woman's memory. This goes away for some women over the age of 50, but they still have had a lifetime of protective advantage giving them a residual effect for a number of years.

Dr. Jack also noted that one unusual, and hopeful, finding of the study was that memory and brain-volume starts to decline in your 30s and continue through old age occur well before there is evidence of Alzheimer's disease.

This means that being forgetful at age 50 or 60 may just be evidence of your brain aging instead of evidence of early Alzheimer's disease.

Still, your brain is going to age. Experts agree that anyone can benefit and delay signs of neurodegeneration by maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise of the body and brain.

Doctors recommend that you keep learning. Learn a new language, develop a skill such as piano or guitar, and take up painting or drawing. And a half hour interval burst of aerobic exercise helps your brain significantly.

And even today, do you trust your memory?

14 comments; last comment on 11/16/2015
View/add comments

Testing Biologics

Posted March 17, 2015 3:24 PM by Chelsey H

A new type of test could help researchers give a more accurate prediction of how patients might respond to biologics, such as the cancer drugs Herceptin and Avastin.

Biologics are manufactured in a living system such as a microorganism, plant, or animal cell. They are very large, complex molecules and many are produced using recombinant DNA technology. According to, "Drugs generally have well-defined chemical structures... By contrast it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to characterize a complex biologic by testing methods available in the laboratory, and some of the components of a finished biologic may be unknown." This makes biologics unpredictable not only in humans, but in various parts of a patient's body.

Biologics affect cell interactions deep in the body, making testing in petri dishes inadequate for observing all the side effects. Because these medicines are specific to humans, they can cause severe reactions that don't materialize in animal studies.

FASEB Journal recently published a new, more reliable test which only requires blood from one donor. Researchers from Imperial College in London isolated stem cells from a donor's blood and then grew endothelial cells in a petri dish to recreate the conditions in the blood vessels. Once the endothelial cells were established, the researchers took white blood cells from the same donor and combined them to recreate the unique donor's blood vessel conditions. Image Credit

The new method of combining cells from a single donor's blood can better predict whether a new drug will cause a severe immune reaction in humans.

1 comments; last comment on 05/07/2015
View/add comments

Winter Blues

Posted March 06, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

It's no secret that this was a rough winter for the Northeast and I am very tired of talking about the weather. With March approaching there is hope for warm weather (and mud!) but not before we all still face the winter blues.

This winter has affected my mood more than previous winters. A condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD is a type of depression which manifests as sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, restlessness, and irritability. It can also lead to loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, fatigue or decreased energy, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, and changes in weight.

The specific causes of SAD are unknown but researchers have been able to link several factors to the disorder. One reason is the lack of sunlight. Winter sunrise is later and winter nights are longer. This can cause melatonin, the hormone regulating sleep and wake cycles, to overshoot into the day leading to grogginess for several hours. Serotonin is one of the many brain chemicals that affect mood and also varies seasonally. Lower levels are common in the winter.

So how can you beat winter blues?

Light therapy is a common and inexpensive treatment. You sit a few feet from a specially designed bright light, which mimics outdoor light. It's not a proven form of therapy but it does appear to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. It also has been shown to result in headaches, mild nausea, and trouble sleeping.

Antidepressants are recommended for severe symptoms and may take a few weeks to fully kick in.

Psychotherapy is a more natural route. It can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse, learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, and how to better manage stress.

Prevention is the best medicine.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Going for a walk, even in the cold, can help to get enough light exposure - especially if it's within the first few hours of waking up. Of course, working out can help decrease stress and anxiety, which can increase symptoms of SAD.

Socializing is also a huge benefit to lifting the winter blues. It's easy to want to hibernate when it's cold and dark outside but it's important to connect with those around you!

Hopefully spring is right around the corner - I've seen enough robins to think that we'll see the sun again soon!

18 comments; last comment on 03/10/2015
View/add comments

Previous in Blog: ‘Smart’ Test for HIV  
Show all Blog Entries in this Blog