Findings

Science  27 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6067, pp. 386
  1. Signature of Senescence

    Last year, researchers retracted a Science paper that aimed to predict one's chance of living to 100 after critics discovered errors that invalidated the results. Now, the original group has revamped and republished their results, this time in PLoS ONE. Boston University biostatistician Paola Sebastiani, geriatrics specialist Thomas Perls, and their colleagues report a new “genetic signature” of 281 gene variants that has some overlap with the one they described in Science in July 2010, though it's less predictive, except in very old people.

    The flap began 18 months ago, after the Boston team proposed a gene signature that they said could predict with 77% accuracy one's chance of becoming a centenarian. The work was criticized by geneticists who said it inflated the importance of a number of gene variants. Last July, the authors retracted the paper.

    In the new work, almost no gene variants were very significant on their own at predicting life span, but in extremely elderly people, the overall signature was more likely to accurately predict their old age than in younger ones—evidence, says Perls, that “the heritability of longevity” increases the older we get. http://scim.ag/_oldage

  2. Embryonic Stem Cells for Eye Disease Appear Safe

    Eye test.

    A Stargardt patient's eye before (top) and after receiving RPE cells.

    CREDIT: S. D. SCHWARTZ ET AL., THE LANCET (PUBLISHED ONLINE 23 JANUARY 2012)

    In the first published report from a clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells, two legally blind patients who received hESC-derived cells in one eye have experienced no harmful side effects and appear to have slightly better vision. Although preliminary, the results are an important milestone for the hESC field.

    Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) of Marlborough, Massachusetts, used hESCs to derive retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, which nourish the retina's light-sensing cells. Collaborators at the University of California, Los Angeles, then injected 50,000 of these RPE cells under the retinas of a woman with Stargardt's macular dystrophy and another woman with dry age-related macular degeneration. Four months later, the patients have not developed tumors from the hESC-derived cells or shown signs of rejection, the team reported online this week in The Lancet. Both women showed some improvement on vision tests.

    Other hESC researchers welcomed the report, but cautioned that the study was very small and designed only to test the safety of the procedure. ACT plans to test a total of 12 patients in each trial. http://scim.ag/_eyes

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