Linkage 8/19: 1200 Patients, Stressed-Out Finches

The future of genetic medicine comes in many flavors, from the discovery of the rare mutations responsible for uncommon diseases to the cataloging of variants that may be responsible for common diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. A segment from last night’s ABC 7 Chicago news focused on both aspects of this potential, jumping from a young man in Utah with Miller Syndrome to the 1200 Patient Project of the Medical Center’s Mark Ratain and Peter O’Donnell. Results from the project, currently underway, could help physicians customize medical treatments for individual patients, maximizing effectiveness while reducing side effects. As the segment says, if we really are heading toward a future where every patient has their genetic code read as routinely as they receive a doctor’s check-up, such research will be essential for unleashing the power of genetic medicine.

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When the media hypes the healthy effects of drinking red wine in moderation, they’re talking about resveratrol, the chemical responsible for wine’s benefits. Scientists have long tested whether isolating that chemical can turn it into a super-pill for good health and long life without the alcoholic “side effects” of its normal route, with mixed results. But a new study featured in the New York Times this morning finds an intriguing benefit of a resveratrol derivative called SRT-1720. Obese mice given the experimental drug lived 30 percent longer – as long as control mice – rather than expiring earlier from obesity-related diseases such as fatty liver and diabetes. As the article states, such a drug may represent “more a moral hazard than an incentive to good health,” seen by some as a way of avoiding the consequences of excess. But with trials of the drug in humans still in their earlier stages, the ethical discussions will have to wait on the science.

Since our piece remembering famed bio-statistician Paul Meier ran last week, two more fine obituaries of the UChicago professor emeritus have appeared. Read the Chicago Tribune take to learn what instrument Meier learned to play at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and the New York Times version for the context of how Meier changed randomization in clinical trials forever.

Living shoulder to shoulder (or even closer, on the subway) in an urban environment feels like a particularly modern phenomenon. But as friend of the blog Tim de Chant explains in his guest blog at Scientific American, human societies have concentrated themselves since even the prehistoric hunter-gatherer days. For more of Tim’s great writing on the science of population density, visit his Per Square Mile blog.

Stress can have all sorts of negative effects on your health, but what about the stress of your spouse or partner? Not Exactly Rocket Science looks at a study in finches that suggests a high-strung life mate could actually shorten your life.

About Rob Mitchum (526 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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