Last Week in Science: The Blind Can See and the Fountain of Youth

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Last Week in Science: The Blind Can See and the Fountain of Youth

Last week, scientists in London found evidence viruses disproportionately affect more men than women, and, much to the chagrin of ladies, it’s not because they have stronger immune systems but rather viruses want to attack their babies. In a collaboration between researchers across the U.S. and in India, scientists were able to cure blindness in patients who suffered from head trauma. And, finally, the Salk Institute Peter Panned some mice—they may never grow up.

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Viruses may have evolved to go easier on women.

It’s long been known that many infections disproportionately affect men than women. Men with TB are 1.5 times more likely to die than women; men with HPV are five times more likely to develop cancer than women; and men are inherently more susceptible to heart disease. And now science suggests the “man-flu” may actually exist.

Researchers at Royal Holloway University showed that, for pathogens affecting both sexes, viral infections have evolved to be more virulent in men. This is because, in natural selection, women are more valuable hosts to a virus because they have the potential to pass it onto their offspring via birth or breastfeeding.

The study examined the virus Human T-cell Lymphotropic Virus Type 1 (HTLV-1) and why it
progresses to leukemia more often in men—particularly men who were breastfed—than in women. Researchers think it’s the virus itself which prevents women from becoming too ill in the hopes of passing it to their offspring.

That said, the study emphasizes the need to conduct clinical trials on both sexes to see if this evolutionary behavior is the case.

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A new surgery can give the legally blind 20/20 vision.

Can blindness become a temporary issue? A small study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the Kresge Eye Institute at Wayne State University in Detroit, and the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute in India discovered that sight can be restored in people who’ve suffered blindness from traumatic brain injury—including those patients who were legally blind before their injury.

The study examined a small sample size of twenty patients who suffered from Terson syndrome, a type of brain hemorrhage caused by traumatic injury—e.g. Car accident. Each of the patients underwent a vitrectomy, a surgery that removes the tissue behind the lens of the eye and replaces it with a saline solution. Within a month after the surgery patients’ vision improved exponentially to an average vision of 20/40 from an average vision of 20/1290, and, within three months, almost all patients had restored 20/20 vision, even those who were once legally blind.

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Scientists might have found the Fountain of Youth…at least for mice.

If a new study out of the Salk Institute proves true in humans, then Peter Pan syndrome may become all-too real. Scientists at the institute successfully halted the aging process in mice by systemically reprogramming their cells. Once the mice’s cellular age was adjusted, their lifespan increased by thirty percent.

“Our study shows that ageing may not have to proceed in one single direction,” says senior author Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Salk Gene Expression Laboratory professor. “It has plasticity and, with careful modulation, ageing might be reversed.”

Past studies conducted in-vitro at the lab already showed that reprogramming cells into pluripotent cells—cells that can turn into any type of cell in the human body—reversed the ageing process. However, the process had never been demonstrated in-vivo.

Though the process of anti-aging is more than likely a gazillion-dollar industry if it’s successful, as for now, it’s important to note that rapid cellular rejuvenation is the basis for—well—cancer, and the transformation of cells from young to old can—and more than likely will—resort in organ failure at the moment.

Even still, it’s a welcoming pipe dream.

Top image: William Brawley

Tom is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? but with more sunscreen and jorts.

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