A report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on childhood obesity is alarming: roughly one in seven U.S. youth ages 10-17, 15.5%, have obesity according to the newest available data. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Black youth had significantly higher rates of obesity than white and Asian youth. Around 1 in 5 youth in households making less than the federal poverty level had obesity, compared to fewer than 1 in 10 youth in households making 400% the federal poverty level.
On the other hand, a series of recent papers highlight progress being made in understanding various aspects of the biology behind obesity:
- A gene that helps to control inflammation increases the risk of obesity and could be turned off in mice to stop weight gain. Nature Metabolism >
- Calorie restriction extends health span, which is thought to be mediated in part through a decrease in core body temperature. Science Signaling >
- A light-sensing pathway in neurons regulates thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue. Nature >
- The microbiota interacts with the enteric nervous system to induce metabolic outcomes. Science >
We continue to tease apart our understanding of metabolism. This Science paper represents metabolomics at its best as the authors studied more than 270 metabolites and their impact on the heart. Their results confirmed that hearts voraciously consume fatty acids. Hearts secreted, rather than consumed, amino acids, thus revealing active proteolysis. In patients with heart failure, ketone and lactate consumption increased, as did proteolysis. These findings could lead to strategies for fighting heart disease by altering metabolism.
Another interesting metabolomic study looked at 64 metabolites and concluded that changes in the circulating metabolome, especially lower serum levels of asparagine and serotonin, are associated with later diagnoses of alcohol‐related diseases, even after adjustment for the baseline level of alcohol use.
3/ Precision Medicine
Our ability to use long-read sequencing to drive highly precise medical understanding (in this case involving muscle spasticity after nervous system injuries and in painful low back spasm which affect more than 10% of global population) is highlighted in this Cell paper.
A group of researchers in the UK, though, called into question the hype around machine-learning powered precision medicine in this paper in The Lancet Digital Health. The authors argue that the goal of personalised medical care faces serious challenges, many of which cannot be addressed through algorithmic complexity, and call for collaboration between traditional methodologists and experts in medical machine learning to avoid extensive research waste.
Scientific evidence for popular health supplements showing tangible human health benefits when taken orally by an adult with a healthy diet is visually set out by information is beautiful. But, there is a counter argument regarding the value of this analysis.
5/ Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization
Stripe Press has just re-issued Scientific Freedom by Donald W. Braben which was originally published in 2008. In a mailing about the book, Kate Lee, the Publisher of Stripe Press, noted “Among the most substantial impediments to scientific innovation are the layers of bureaucracy that stifle curiosity and limit our ability to make transformative advances. … Braben pioneered British Petroleum’s Venture Research program, which identified and sponsored scientists doing cutting-edge research. Such research can, in fact, be low risk and offer rich rewards. In Scientific Freedom, Don provides a tested framework to discover researchers with revolutionary ideas—and to give these thinkers the requisite freedom to explore.”
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