Covid-19 sucked most of the oxygen out of science this year. But we still had brilliant wins.
The pandemic couldnt bring rockets or humans down: multiple missions blasted off to the red planet in the summer of Mars. Two astronauts launched to the International Space Stationand made it safely backin a game-changer for commercial space travel. NASA released dozens of findings on how space travel changes our bodies, paving the way to keep us healthy in orbitor one day, on Mars and beyond.
Back on Earth, scientists scoured mud ponds and fished out a teeny-tiny CRISPR enzyme that packs a massive punch for genome editing. AI and neuroscience became even more entwinedsometimes literally. Biological neurons got hooked up to two silicon-based artificial neurons, across multiple countries, into a fully-functional biohybrid neural network. Others tapped dopaminethe main messenger for the brains reward systemto unite electricity and chemical computing into a semi-living computer. While still largely a curiosity, these studies take brain-inspired computers to another level by seamlessly incorporating living neurons into AI hardware. Now imagine similar circuits inside the brainNeuralink sure is.
More abstractly, biological and artificial brains further fed into each other in our understandingand craftingof intelligence. This year, scientists found mini-computers in the input tree-like branches of neurons. Like entire neural networks, these cables were capable of performing complex logical calculations, suggesting our brain cells are far brainier than we previously thoughtsomething AI can learn from. On the flip side, a hotshot algorithm inspired by the brain called reinforcement learning pushed neuroscientists to re-examine how we respond to feedback as we learn. AI also helped build the most dynamic brain atlas to date, a living map that can continuously incorporate new data and capture individual differences.
As we leave 2020 behind, two main themes percolate in my mind, not just for what theyve accomplished, but as indicators of what lies ahead. These are the trends Ill be keeping my eyes on in the coming year.
Why we age is extremely complex. So are methods that try to prevent age-related diseases, or slow the aging process itself. This nth-dimensional complexity almost dictates that longevity research needs to self-segregate into lanes.
Take probing the biological mechanisms that drive aging. For example, our cells energy factory spews out bullet-like molecules that damage the cell. The genome becomes unstable. Cells turn zombie-like. Working stem cells vanish. Tissue regeneration suffers. Scientists often spend entire careers understanding one facet of a single hallmark of aging, or hunting for age-related genes. The lucky ones come up with ways to combat that one foefor example, senolytics, a family of drugs that wipe out zombie cells to protect against age-related diseases.
But aging hallmarks dont rear their heads in isolation. They work together. An increasing trend is to unveil the how of their interactions workcrosstalk, in science-speakwith hopes of multiple birds with one stone.
This year, longevity researchers crossed lanes.
One study, for example, took a stem cell playbook to rejuvenate eyesight in aged mice with vision loss. They focused on a prominent aging hallmark: epigenetics. Our DNA is dotted with thousands of chemical marks. As we age, these marks accumulate. Using gene therapy, the team introduced three superstar genes into the eyes of aged mice to revert those marks and reprogram cells to a younger state. Youve probably heard of those genes: theyre three of the four factors used to revert adult skin cells into a stem-cell-like state, or iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells). Resetting the epigenetic clock was so powerful it improved visual acuity in old mice, and the team has now licensed the tech to Life Biosciences in Boston to further develop for humans.
Another study combined three main puzzle pieces in agingzombie cells, inflammation, and malfunctioning mitochondriainto a full picture, with the surprise ending that senolytics has multiple anti-aging powers in cells. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. Finally, one team (which I was a part of) combined two promising approaches for brain rejuvenationexercise and young bloodto begin pushing the limits of reigniting faltering memory and cognition due to aging.
Longevity research has long been fragmented, but its starting to coalesce into a multidisciplinary field. These crossovers are just the start of a rising trajectory to combat the multi-headed Hydra thats aging. More will come.
If youre looking for a sign that AI is leaving the digital realm of Atari games and heading into the real world, this year was it.
In biotech, theres no doubt of AIs promise in drug discovery or medical diagnoses. In late 2019, a team used deep learning and generative modelssimilar to AlphaGo, the DeepMind algorithm that trounced humans at Go and wiped the Atari libraryto conjure over 30,000 new drug molecules, a feat chemists could only dream of. This year, the viral hurricane thats Covid-19 further unleashed AI-based drug discovery, such as screening existing drugs for candidates that may work against the virus, or newlydesigned chemicals to fight off SARS-CoV-2 infectionthe virus that causes Covid-19.
For now, we dont yet have an AI-designed drug on the market, an ultimate test for the technologys promise. However, although AI wasnt able to make a splash in our current pandemic battle, the scene is set for tackling the next oneand drug discovery as a whole.
In contrast, AI-based medical diagnosis had a resounding win. This year, the FDA approved a software that uses AI to provide real-time guidance for ultrasound imaging for the heart, essentially allowing those without specialized training to perform the test. The approval brings a total of 29 FDA-approved AI-based medical technologies to date. Even as the debate on trust, ethics, and responsibility for AI doctors cranked up in temperature, the Pandoras box has been opened.
Medicine aside, deep learning further honed its craft in a variety of fields. The neuroscience-AI marriage is one for the ages with no signs of fracture. Outside the brain, AI also gave synthetic biology a leg up by parsing the interactions between genes and genetic networksa mind-bending, enormously complex problem previously only achieved through trial and error. With help from AI, synthetic biologists can predict how changes to one gene in a cell could affect others, and in turn, the cells biochemistry and behavior. Bottom line: it makes designing new biological circuits, such as getting yeast to pump out green fuels or artificially hoppy beer, much easier.
But the coup de grce against AI as an overhyped technology is DeepMinds decimation of a 50-year-long challenge in biology. With a performance that shocked experts, DeepMinds AlphaFold was able to predict a proteins 3D structure from its amino acid sequencethe individual components of a proteinmatching the current gold standard. As the workhorses of our bodies, proteins dictate life. AlphaFold, in a sense, solved a huge chunk of the biology of life, with implications for both drug discovery and synthetic biology.
One more scientific brilliance this year is the use of light in neuroscience and tissue engineering. One study, for example, used lasers to directly print a human ear-like structure under the skin of mice, without a single surgical cut. Another used light to incept smell in mice, artificially programming an entirely new, never-seen-in-nature perception of a scent directly into their brains. Yet another study combined lasers with virtual reality to dissect how our brains process space and navigation, mentally transporting a mouse to a virtual location linked to a reward. To cap it off, scientists found a new way to use light to control the brain through the skull without surgerythough as of now, youll still need gene therapy. Given the implications of unauthorized mind control, thats probably less of a bug and more of a feature.
Were nearing the frustratingly slow, but sure, dying gasp of Covid-19. The pandemic defined 2020, but science kept hustling along. I cant wait to share what might come in the next year with youmay it be revolutionary, potentially terrifying, utterly bizarre* or oddly heart-warming.
* For example, Why wild giant pandas frequently roll in horse manure. Yes thats the actual title of a study. Yes, its a great read. And yes, its hilarious but has a point.
Image Credit: Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash
Read the original:
2020 in Neuroscience, Longevity, and AIand What's to Come - Singularity Hub
- Researchers investigate whether stem cell therapy is safe and effective for treatment-resistant bipolar disease - Newswise - April 18th, 2021
- Stem Cell and Regenerative Therapy Market: Cell Therapy Segment to Dominate Global Market - BioSpace - April 18th, 2021
- First in the nation, FDA-approved Phase II mesenchymal stem cell therapy for Parkinson's disease begins - Newswise - April 18th, 2021
- Cellino Biotech developing tech to help scale stem cell therapies - MedCity News - April 18th, 2021
- Stem cell treatment needed to fight the good fight - Victoria Lookout - April 18th, 2021
- Being bionic: the future of regenerative medicine - Toronto Star - April 18th, 2021
- Treating chronic myeloid leukemia (CML): By phase and more - Medical News Today - April 18th, 2021
- Chemical conversion of human epidermal stem cells into intestinal goblet cells for modeling mucus-microbe interaction and therapy - Science Advances - April 18th, 2021
- Andres Isaias Combining Innovation and Excellence - Influencive - April 18th, 2021
- A Massive New Gene Editing Project Is Out to Crush Alzheimer's - Singularity Hub - April 18th, 2021
- Antibiotic Use Prior to Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplantation May Be Linked to Graft Vs Host Disease - Hematology Advisor - April 18th, 2021
- Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) Treatment Market Is Rising With Post COVID-19 Impact Analysis, Development, CAGR - Global Banking And Finance Review - April 18th, 2021
- The Recovery Room: News beyond the pandemic April 16 - Medical News Today - April 18th, 2021
- The Governments Watchful Eye on Fraud Stemming from Stem Cell Therapy - JD Supra - April 4th, 2021
- Uprooting Cancer: Innovative Hydrogel Rapidly Reverts Cancer Cells Back to Cancer Stem Cells - SciTechDaily - April 4th, 2021
- Multiple sclerosis: Recent research on causes and treatments - Medical News Today - April 4th, 2021
- First CAR T-Cell Therapy for Multiple Myeloma: Abecma - Medscape - April 4th, 2021
- Vitro Biopharma Retains Leading Health Care Executive as Acting Director of Regulatory Affairs & Director - Benzinga - April 4th, 2021
- Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for therapy-related myeloid neoplasms following treatment of a lymphoid malignancy - DocWire News - April 4th, 2021
- Orca-T Offers an Alternative to HSCT With Improved Patient Experience - OncLive - April 4th, 2021
- Russell Health Highlighted in the Silicon Review's '50 Leading Companies of the Year 2021' - PRNewswire - April 4th, 2021
- Gracell Biotechnologies Announces Enrollment of First Patient in Registrational Phase 1/2 Clinical Study for GC007g, an Allogeneic CAR-T Cell Therapy... - April 4th, 2021
- LGL Leukemia: Overview, Symptoms, and Treatment - Healthline - April 4th, 2021
- Funding the Next Generation of Cancer Therapies - Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News - April 4th, 2021
- RenovaCare Announces Organizational Changes and Appointment of New Officers - GlobeNewswire - April 4th, 2021
- Stem Cell Therapy Market expected to reach USD 16.51 Billion by 2025 KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper - KSU | The Sentinel Newspaper - March 8th, 2021
- Creative Medical Technology Holdings Publishes Efficacy in Pain Reduction and Mobility in Patients with Disc Degenerative Disc Using StemSpine... - March 8th, 2021
- New Controversy for Stem Cell Therapy That Repairs Spinal Cords - The Great Courses Daily News - March 8th, 2021
- Cell Therapy for Cartilage Regeneration Gets a Boost With Hyaluronic Acid Enriched Chondrocytes in a 3D Tissue Engineering Platform - Business Wire - March 8th, 2021
- Scar-Forming Cells Switch to Producing New Neurons that Promote Functional Recovery in Mice after Spinal Cord Injury - Genetic Engineering &... - March 8th, 2021
- Moderna Hires Harvard Stem Cell Researcher Jonathan Hoggatt as Director of Hematology: What You Need to Know - Yahoo Finance - March 8th, 2021
- Stem Cell Banking Market Report 2021 | Growth and Opportunities Analysis - BioSpace - February 19th, 2021
- Global Cell Therapy Biomanufacturing Market (2020 to 2025) - Featuring Lonza Group, Merck & Novartis Among Others - ResearchAndMarkets.com -... - February 19th, 2021
- Off-the-Shelf NK Immunotherapy Is Safe and Promising in B-Cell NHL With Chemotherapy and Transplant - Targeted Oncology - February 17th, 2021
- Braunschweig Makes the Case for Earlier Use of CAR T-Cell Therapy in DLBCL - OncLive - February 17th, 2021
- Creative Medical Technology Holdings Files Patent on Prevention of Organ Transplant Rejection using ImmCelz - PRNewswire - February 17th, 2021
- Lineage to Host Virtual OPC1 Investor & Analyst Day on February 22, 2021 - Business Wire - February 17th, 2021
- Novartis, Gates Foundation pursue a simpler gene therapy for sickle cell - STAT - February 17th, 2021
- CRISPR Therapeutics Provides Business Update and Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2020 Financial Results - GlobeNewswire - February 17th, 2021
- Equillium Presents Positive Interim Clinical Data of Itolizumab in First-line Treatment of Acute Graft-Versus-Host Disease at the 2021 Transplantation... - February 14th, 2021
- Zebrafish reveal regenerative protein that could inspire new treatments for muscle-wasting diseases and aging - FierceBiotech - February 11th, 2021
- Stem cell study illuminates the cause of an inherited heart disorder | Penn Today - Penn Today - February 11th, 2021
- Neurons from patient blood cells enable researchers to test treatments for genetic brain disease - Brown University - February 11th, 2021
- Therapeutic Solutions International Acquires Stem Cell Therapy That Successfully Completed FDA Double Blind Placebo Controlled Efficacy Study for Lung... - February 11th, 2021
- The Role and Activation Mechanism of TAZ in Hierarchical Microgroove/N | IJN - Dove Medical Press - February 11th, 2021
- Stem Cell Therapy Market: Top 5 trends fueling the industry revenue through 2025 - BioSpace - February 9th, 2021
- Magenta Therapeutics to Present Additional Data from Phase 1 MGTA-145 Stem Cell Mobilization Program and Preclinical Updates on Targeting Conditioning... - February 9th, 2021
- Gamida Cell Presents Efficacy and Safety Results of Phase 3 Study of Omidubicel in Patients with Hematologic Malignancies at the 2021 TCT Meetings of... - February 9th, 2021
- Creative Medical Technology Holdings Recruits Internationally Renowned Kidney Expert to Scientific Advisory Board - PRNewswire - February 9th, 2021
- Jasper Therapeutics Announces Positive Data from Phase 1 Clinical Trial of JSP191 as Targeted Stem Cell Conditioning Agent in Patients with... - February 9th, 2021
- USC scientist Ya-Wen Chen receives American Lung Association grant to advance stem cell-based lung therapies - USC News - February 9th, 2021
- [Full text] Successful Use of Nivolumab in a Patient with Head and Neck Cancer Aft | OTT - Dove Medical Press - February 9th, 2021
- Responses to Liso-Cel Not Influenced by Prior Treatment With Anti-CD19 Agents in R/R Large B-Cell Lymphoma - Targeted Oncology - February 9th, 2021
- Drugs that trip cellular alarm could help clear out hibernating HIV - New Atlas - February 9th, 2021
- Leukemia in children: Symptoms, causes, treatment, outlook, and more - Medical News Today - February 6th, 2021
- Stem Cell Study Illuminates the Cause of a Devastating Inherited Heart Disorder - Newswise - February 4th, 2021
- iSpecimen expands offerings to support regenerative medicine, adding cryopreserved stem and immune cells to existing biospecimens available through... - February 4th, 2021
- CU Researchers Win Prize from National Eye Institute - CU Anschutz Today - February 4th, 2021
- Leading Urologist Doubles Down on CaverStem Regenerative Stem Cell Procedure for Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction in Men - BioSpace - January 25th, 2021
- Research Assistant - Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology job with NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE | 239606 - Times Higher Education (THE) - December 24th, 2020
- Getting to the root of why hair goes gray - messenger-inquirer - December 24th, 2020
- How the COVID Virus Induces Inflammation, Cytokine Storm and Stress in Infected Lung Cells - SciTechDaily - December 24th, 2020
- Medicine by Design symposium highlights importance of convergence in regenerative medicine and human health - News@UofT - December 22nd, 2020
- Updated Findings Show Continued Efficacy for CAR T-Cell Therapy in Heavily Pretreated Myeloma - Targeted Oncology - December 14th, 2020
- Cell Isolation/ Separation Market worth $15.0 billion by 2025 - Exclusive Report by MarketsandMarkets - PRNewswire - December 14th, 2020
- Cord blood banks sell parents on promising stem cell research, but with no guarantees - The Arizona Republic - December 8th, 2020
- Procyon Technologies LLC and Novo Nordisk A/S to Collaborate on the Development of a Stem-Cell Based Therapy for Type 1 Diabetes - PRNewswire - December 8th, 2020
- Genetic engineering transformed stem cells into working mini-livers that extended the life of mice with liver disease - The Conversation US - December 8th, 2020
- Hadassah Medical Center and Neurogenesis Announce Groundbreaking Results from a Phase 2 Study in Progressive Multiple Sclerosis treated with NG-01... - December 8th, 2020
- Worldwide Cell Culture Industry to 2025 - Featuring Thermo Fisher Scientific, Corning Incorporated and Eppendorf Among Others - GlobeNewswire - December 8th, 2020
- The cell culturemarket is projected to reach USD 33.1 billion by 2025 from USD 19.0 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 11.8% - GlobeNewswire - December 8th, 2020
- Treatment with Investigational LentiGlobin Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Disease (bb1111) Results in Complete Elimination of SCD-Related Severe... - December 8th, 2020
- New DARZALEX (daratumumab) Data from GRIFFIN Study Show Deeper and Longer Responses in Patients with Newly Diagnosed Multiple Myeloma - BioSpace - December 8th, 2020
- Anatomy of a vaccine: What it takes to create a safe, effective COVID shot - University of California - December 8th, 2020
- Development of New Stem Cell Type May Lead to Advances In Regenerative Medicine - Newswise - December 3rd, 2020
- UCLA receives $7.3 million grant to build state-of-the-art facility for developing gene, cell therapies - UCLA Newsroom - December 3rd, 2020
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells Market in Global : Current and the Future Trends: Astellas Pharma Inc/ Ocata Therapeutics, Stemcell Technologies Inc - The... - December 3rd, 2020
- Possible Role for Comprehensive Molecular ProfilingBased Treatment Selection in Newly Diagnosed AML, Study Suggests - Cancer Therapy Advisor - December 3rd, 2020
- Nobel Prize history from the year you were born - Herald & Review - December 3rd, 2020
- 4D hires a trio of area heads as it ramps up its gene therapy pipeline - FierceBiotech - December 3rd, 2020