Health Features

Health & Beauty Advancements

We live in a fast-paced world, which means we want treatments, products and regimens that work well from the start for both health and beauty concerns. Thankfully, breakthroughs are made every day, and promising research brings to light innovative approaches, like the ones listed here.

anti-aging breakthrough
Aging is inevitable, but researchers at Washington University School of Medicine may have found a way to truly stop the clock. They discovered that a protein abundant in the blood of young mice called eNAMPT plays an important role in keeping them healthy. It is responsible for orchestrating a key step in the process cells use to make energy, which helps regulate processes like sleep, hormone levels and body temperature. Cells become less efficient at producing this fuel with age, but eNAMPT might increase production.

The research team discovered that supplementing older mice with the protein from younger ones appeared to slow their decline in health and extend their life spans by about 16%. The protein is present in humans, and Dr. Shin-ichiro Imai, professor of developmental biology and the study’s senior author, notes that future studies should be done to investigate whether it could be used as an anti-aging intervention. “We also are looking at how to develop eNAMPT synthetically,” he adds. “Currently, we have to get the enzyme from younger specimens, but hopefully, we can create particles to be used to treat the problems of aging.”

NMN, a chemical that eNAMPT produces, also is being studied at the university for its anti-aging effects, and it is currently in human trials after showing strong promise in mice models. “Ten years ago, if you had told me reversing the aging process was possible, I would have said it sounded like science fiction,” Imai says. “But now, it’s becoming a reality, and developing this technology is very important to our heavily aging society.”

light protection
Eyeglasses that adapt to changing light conditions have been on the market for almost two decades. Now, contact wearers can enjoy the same benefits. Acuvue Oasys recently released Transitions, a lens that becomes darker when activated by bright indoor or outdoor light to balance the amount entering the eyes. Dr. James Rieger, an optometrist at Pepose Vision Institute, says it is an option for any contact wearer. “In terms of wear, they work just like regular lenses,” he says. “They are disposable, and each lens can be worn for two weeks. You get the experience of normal, clear lenses with the added benefit of protection from UV rays.”

The lenses were designed to minimize any changes to the appearance of the eye. Rieger notes that when they are fully darkened, rings may be visible around the edges of the irises, especially if you have lighter colored eyes. “The lens darkens down in a matter of seconds, but it can take longer to lighten back up,” he adds. “It may be more visible to people during that transition period.”

The lenses are not meant to be an alternative to sunglasses. While they provide UV protection, they don’t cover the entire eye, and the areas around the lens are still exposed to harmful rays. “They reduce glare and help you adjust to brightness,” Rieger explains. “You still need sunglasses, though.

stem access
There is no denying the importance of STEM education, but the graphs, charts and simulations that are integral to those subjects can make it a struggle for visually impaired students to succeed. Jenna Gorlewicz, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Saint Louis University, is working to make math and science more accessible, using technology that is already widely available. “When I was doing my Ph.D. work, I worked in public schools,” she says. “I met two talented students who were blind and told me they struggled with math. It was obvious to me that it was an issue of accessibility and not capability.”

Currently, the most common accommodation for visually impaired students is embossed graphics, which allow them to feel a graph or chart. Gorlewicz notes that these are inadequate because they require a print-out, so data cannot be quickly updated and students often don’t have access outside of school. “I’m most interested in the electronic and digital spaces because that’s where the largest gap is,” she says. “Some websites or programs may have auditory text-based descriptions but not all, and they can’t always adequately communicate what a graph or table is showing.”

Gorlewicz’s work uses the vibration and sound functions of touchscreen devices like tablets and phones. Through multisensory experiences, students will be able to ‘read’ images. “We take the visual elements and assign them a sound or vibration, so graphic elements become tangible,” she explains. The research, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, currently focuses on K-12 education, but Gorlewicz is hopeful that it also can be applied to more complex material.

probiotic beauty
Probiotics are known to keep your gut microbiome balanced, providing big health benefits. But these helpful bacteria aren’t just important for your stomach. Keeping your gut healthy also is good for your skin because it means less inflammation, which leads to fewer breakouts and eczema flares. Ecosystems of bacteria also reside on your skin, and the good ones can form a natural barrier against bad bacteria, balance your skin’s pH levels and reduce inflammation. But using harsh cleansers on your face can strip the area of these healthy bacteria, leaving it dry and vulnerable to damage and breakouts. To combat this, skin care brands are now incorporating probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics into their products.

  • Probiotics: Microorganisms that are similar to the naturally occuring bacteria in your body. Products that include these introduce new live cultures to bolster the number of good bacteria on your skin.
  • Prebiotics: Compounds that support the vitality of good bacteria in your body. Products with these essentially feed the bacteria that is already on your skin.
  • Postbiotics: By-products of the bacteria’s functions, such as enzymes, peptides and organic acids. These ingredients fight acne and infections and kickstart your skin’s healing process without the need for an instigating injury.

Sources: Allure, Forbes

a better flu shot
Every year, St. Louisans roll up their sleeves for a flu shot, but evidence indicates that its effectiveness wanes throughout flu season. Researchers at Washington University are working toward a better influenza vaccine with the aid of a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The annual flu vaccine is created by identifying the most common flu strains of the year. It’s a huge undertaking, and in 2018, NIAID issued a strategic plan for developing an immunization that treats all strains. The new study’s principal investigator, Ali Ellebedy, Ph.D., notes that a universal vaccine won’t be effective unless it also is determined how to make the immune response last longer.

Vaccines work by exposing the immune system to harmless but recognizable parts of microbes like viruses and bacteria. They train plasma cells in the lymph nodes to look for and fight off certain illnesses. Long-term protection is created by plasma cells migrating to the bone marrow, where they live for decades. By comparing the inactivated flu vaccine to the yellow fever vaccine, which provides life-long immunity, Ellebedy and his colleagues will better understand why the flu immunization fails to generate long-lived plasma cells.

“What is the yellow-fever vaccine doing that the flu vaccine isn’t?” Ellebedy asks. “We need to find the secret to a long-lived immune response, and to do that, we need to find out exactly what is going on in the lymph nodes. Once we understand that, we can start thinking about how to redesign the flu vaccine to elicit an optimal, long-lasting response.”

virtual reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are the driving force behind a lot of recent technological innovation. And they’re used for way more than just video games. Medicine is one area in which the technology is being applied in exciting, innovative ways.

  • Preoperative Planning: VR is used to help surgeons create patient-specific simulations. Using medical image data, they can recreate the surgical site digitally, get a tactile sense of what the procedure will be like and better understand complicated components. AR can be used by plastic surgeons to give patients an idea of what their results will look like. Computer simulations illustrate the outcomes for a variety of procedures for the face and body.
  • Navigation: Surgeons also can use VR and AR tech for support during operations. Anatomical information, surgical plans and the position of surgical tools all can be relayed to doctors using VR headsets or AR devices. Some systems overlay real views of the patient with surgical plans to act as a visual guide.
  • Training: From neurosurgery to reconstructing a hip, doctors can use VR to get tactile experience in a variety of procedures without having to work on a patient. Much of the training that uses the technology is meant to develop specific skills, such as bone drilling or cutting.

Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information