Potential Cellular Target for Eliminating Bone Breakdown in Osteoporosis Found (Medicine)

New research has discovered a cell type that governs the way bones form and maintain themselves, opening up a potential target for future therapies for bone disorders like osteoporosis. Led by faculty from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, a rodent study showed that bone marrow adipogenic lineage precursors (MALPs) play a distinct role in the way bones remodel themselves. Defects in this process are the key issue at play in osteoporosis, so a therapy using these MALP cells to better regulate bone remodeling could result in better treatments. This research was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“Discovering new cellular and molecular mechanisms to control bone turnover will enable fine-tuning of existing therapies or design of novel therapeutics,” said the study’s senior author, Ling Qin, PhD, an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery. “For example, with the advance of gene-editing technology and novel cell-specific delivery approaches, in the future it would be possible to regulate MALP behavior as a therapy for bone disorders like osteoporosis.”

Healthy bone maintenance is a balance between osteoblasts, which secrete the materials necessary to form new bone, and osteoclasts, which absorb old bone material to make way for the new. A disruption in this balance one way or the other can result in unhealthy bone. In the case of osteoporosis, overactive osteoclasts eat away at bone faster than it can be reformed, resulting in bones that are less dense and more susceptible to fracture.

The general consensus among scientists was that osteoblasts and osteocytes, the cells within fully-formed bone, were the ones that kicked off the production of osteoclasts to begin the remodeling of bone. On the other hand, the role of adipocyte lineage cells, such as MALPs, in regulating the resorption of bone was not known.

Earlier in 2020, Qin’s group discovered the abundant existence of MALPs within bone. MALPs are the precursors for adipocytes that carry fats, called lipids, inside bone marrow. And recent studies by Qin and her fellow researchers better cleared up how MALPs appear to factor in bone turnover. They showed that MALPs, but not osteoblast or osteocytes, have cell-to-cell contact with osteoclasts. Additionally, using advanced sequencing techniques at a single cell level, Qin and her colleagues found that MALPs secrete RANKL, a protein essential for forming osteoclasts, at a high level.

With that information, the researchers for this study, who included lead author Wei Yu, MD, PhD, working as a visiting scholar at Penn Medicine, studied mice with RANKL deficiencies in their MALPs. From the point those mice turned a month old, the researchers saw 60 to 100 percent higher density of the spongy components of long bones (like the femur) and vertebrae, something the researchers qualified as “a drastic increase” compared to typical mouse bone mass.

Since the osteoblasts and osteocytes continued to work as they always do, it would seem that MALPs and their RANKL secretions have been pinpointed as the main driver of osteoclast function and the absorption of existing bone.

“By identifying what appears to be the full function of MALP cells, we believe that we have uncovered an extremely promising target that would never have been considered before,” Qin said. “If their RANKL secretions can be reliably disabled, it could rebalance bone remodeling in people with osteoporosis and allow for osteoblasts and osteocytes to ‘catch up.'”

Qin’s co-author, Jaimo Ahn, MD, PhD, a former faculty member at Penn Medicine now chief of orthopaedic trauma and associate chair of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Michigan, believes these discoveries could be very useful in more effectively rebuilding bone. “An exciting future step, with an eye toward clinical application, would be to target MALPs in a timed and therapeutic fashion to test how well they simultaneously decrease the bone resorption and increase bone formation,” Ahn said.

References: http://dx.doi.org/10.1172/JCI140214

Provided by University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Ribosome Assembly – The Final Trimming Step (Biology)

Ribosomes synthesize all the proteins in cells. Studies mainly done on yeast have revealed much about how ribosomes are put together, but an Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich team now reports that ribosome assembly in human cells requires factors that have no counterparts in simpler model organisms.

From particle to fine structure: A cryo-electron micrograph of the 40S ribosomal subunit and the derived structural model. Source: M. Ameismeier

In every cell, hundreds of thousands of intricate molecular machines called ribosomes fabricate new proteins, extending each growing chain at a rate of a few amino acids per second. Not surprisingly therefore, the construction of these vital protein factories is itself a highly complex operation, in which more than 200 assembly factors are transiently involved. Mature ribosomes are made up of approximately 80 proteins and four ribosomal RNAs. But how these constituents are assembled in the correct order to yield a functional ribosome is still not fully understood. Moreover, most of our knowledge of the process comes from studies carried out on model organisms like bacteria and yeast, and may not necessarily be applicable to the cells of higher organisms. Researchers led by Professor Roland Beckmann (Gene Center, LMU Munich) have now uncovered new details of the crucial steps in the maturation of ribosomes in human cells.

Active ribosomes consist of two separately assembled particles, which differ in size and interact with each other only after the first steps in protein synthesis have taken place on the smaller of the two (in human cells, the ’40S subunit’). Beckmann’s team has used cryo-electron microscopy to determine the structures of several precursors of the 40S subunit isolated from human cells and follow the course of its maturation. “This study follows on from an earlier project, in which we obtained initial insights into the process,” says Michael Ameismeier. He is a doctoral student in Beckmann’s team and lead author of the new report, which is concerned with the final steps in the assembly of the small subunit.

At this late stage in the process, one end of the ribosomal RNA associated with the small particle protrudes from the body of the immature subunit. The last step in the maturation of the 18S subunit consists in the removal of this now superfluous segment. To ensure that this reaction does not occur prematurely, the enzyme responsible – NOB1 – is maintained in an inactive state until it is required. The new study shows that the activation of NOB1 is preceded by a conformational change that results in the detachment of a binding partner from the enzyme. This in turn triggers a structural rearrangement in NOB1 itself, which enables the enzyme to snip off the protruding rRNA segment. “The activation of NOB1 is coordinated by another enzyme,” Ameismeier explains. Together with a protein we have discovered – which is not found in yeast – the latter enzyme inserts like a wedge into the maturing 40S subunit, and this facilitates the decisive conformational change in NOB1.”

The authors have also shown that yet another protein not found in yeast plays an (as yet) enigmatic role in the maturation of the 40S subunit. “This demonstrates the importance of considering the human system separately from other experimental models,” says Beckmann. Use of the evolutionarily simpler yeast system is sufficient for a basic understanding of the process. But certain pathological syndromes have been linked to errors in ribosomal biogenesis in humans, which provides an obvious rationale for the study of ribosomal assembly in human cell systems.

References: Ameismeier, M., Zemp, I., van den Heuvel, J. et al. Structural basis for the final steps of human 40S ribosome maturation. Nature (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2929-x https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2929-x

Provided by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat-Munchen

Discovery Illuminates How Cell Growth Pathway Responds to Signals (Biology)

Cell biology finding may lead to better techniques aimed at tissue regeneration and anti-cancer therapies.

A basic science discovery by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reveals a fundamental way cells interpret signals from their environment and may eventually pave the way for potential new therapies.


The finding involves a signaling pathway in cells, called the Hippo pathway, which normally constrains cell division and regulates the size of organs, and also plays a role in tissue growth and development as well as tumor suppression. The Hippo pathway is so fundamental that it is found in species ranging from humans to flies.

The Bloomberg School researchers clarified the working of this signaling pathway by solving a long-standing mystery of how one of its core components, an enzyme called MST2, can be activated by multiple signaling inputs.

The discovery is reported in a paper on November 20 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“We knew that this pathway could be activated by different upstream signals, and here we’ve revealed the mechanism by which that happens,” says study senior author Jennifer Kavran, PhD, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The Hippo pathway normally works as a brake on cell division that stops organs from growing larger once they have reached the appropriate size. Mutations or other abnormalities in the pathway that take the brakes off cell division have been found in many cancers, making elements of the Hippo pathway potential targets for future cancer treatments.

Due to its fundamental role of tissue and organ growth, the pathway also is of great interest to researchers who are developing techniques to improve wound healing and stimulate the regeneration of damaged tissue.

The heart of the Hippo pathway begins with the activation of two highly related enzymes, MST1 and MST2, which are almost identical and perform overlapping functions. A variety of biological events, including cell-to-cell contacts, certain nutrients, stress, and signaling through cell receptors, can cause MST1/2 to become activated–a process in which the enzyme becomes tagged with sets of phosphorus and oxygen atoms called phosphoryl groups.

Once activated by this “autophosphorylation,” MST1/2 can send signals downstream to complete the signaling chain and inhibit cell division. Normally, proteins that undergo autophosphorylation are activated by a single molecular “event”–such as binding a particular molecule or interacting with another copy of the same enzyme. How such a variety of inputs can each trigger MST1/2’s activation has been a mystery.

“In cell biology, we’re used to the idea that when an enzyme is transmitting a signal, a single molecular event turned that enzyme on,” Kavran says.

In the study, she and her colleagues used test tube and cell culture experiments with human MST2 to show that the myriad upstream activators of this enzyme trigger MST2 autophosphorylation the same way–simply by increasing the local concentration of these enzymes–thus reducing the distance between the enzymatic sites on individual enzymes and making it easier for them to phosphorylate one another.

The researchers believe their discovery is likely to apply not only to MST2 but also its twin MST1 as well as the very similar versions of the enzyme produced in other species.

Although this was principally a basic science study, the results should enhance the ability of researchers to manipulate Hippo pathway signaling, both for basic research as well as for potential therapeutic applications for tissue regeneration and anti-cancer therapies.

“The techniques we used to activate MST2 in cell cultures should be useful to other labs that are studying the Hippo pathway and need a way to turn it on in a controlled manner,” Kavran says.

She and her lab plan to investigate how other enzymes in the pathway are regulated.

“Increasing kinase domain proximity promotes MST2 autophosphorylation during Hippo signaling” was written by Thao Tran, Jaba Mitra, Taekjip Ha, and Jennifer Kavran.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (R01GM134000, T32CA009110, R35GM122569).

Provided by John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public

Memories Create ‘Fingerprints’ That Reveal How the Brain is Organized (Neuroscience)

While the broad architecture and organization of the human brain is universal, new research shows how the differences between how people reimagine common scenarios can be observed in brain activity and quantified. These unique neurological signatures could ultimately be used to understand, study, and even improve treatment of disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“When people imagine similar types of events, each person does it differently because they have different experiences,” said Feng (Vankee) Lin, Ph.D., R.N. “Our research demonstrates that we can decode the complex information in the human brain related to everyday life and identify neural ‘fingerprints’ that are unique to each individual’s remembered experience.” Lin is an associate professor in the University of Rochester Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience and co-author of the study which appears in the journal Nature Communications.

In the study, researchers asked 26 participants to recall common scenarios, such as driving, attending a wedding, or eating out at a restaurant. The scenarios were broad enough so that each participant would reimagine them differently. For example, when researchers asked volunteers to vividly remember and describe an occasion involving dancing, one person might recall watching their daughter participating in a dance recital, while another may imaging themselves dancing at a Bar Mitzvah.

The participant’s verbal descriptions were mapped to a computational linguistic model that approximates the meaning of the words and creates numerical representation of the context of the description. They were also asked to rate aspects of the remembered experience, such as how strongly it was associated with sound, color, movement, and different emotions.

The study volunteers were then placed in a functional MRI (fMRI) and asked to reimagine the experience while researchers measured which areas of the brain were activated. Using the fMRI data and the subject’s verbal descriptions and ratings, researchers were able to isolate brain activity patterns associated with that individual’s experiences. For instance, if the participant imagined driving through a red light in the scenario, areas of the brain associated with recalling motion and color would be activated. Using this data, the researchers built a functional model of each participant’s brain, essentially creating a unique signature of their neurological activity.

The researchers were able to identify several areas of the brain that served as hubs for processing information across brain networks that contribute to recalling information about people, objects, places, emotions, and sensations. The team was also able to observe how activation patterns within these networks differed on an individual level depending upon the details of each person’s recollections and imagination.

“One of the goals of cognitive science is to understand how memories are represented and manipulated by the human brain,” said Andrew Anderson, Ph.D., with the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience and co-author of the study. “This study shows that fMRI can measure brain activity with sufficient signal to identify meaningful interpersonal differences in the neural representation of complex imagined events that reflect each individual’s unique experience.”

In addition to expanding our understanding of how the brain is networked, the authors point out that many of the key regions they identified tend to decline in function as we age and are vulnerable to the degeneration that occurs in disease like Alzheimer’s. The findings could lead to new ways to diagnose and study disorders associated with irregular memory deficits, including dementia, schizophrenia, and depression, and perhaps even personalize treatments and predict which therapies will be more effective.

Additional co-authors include Kelsey McDermott, Brian Rooks, Kathi Heffner, and David Dodell-Feder with the University of Rochester. The study was funded with support from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health and the URMC Clinical the Translational Science Institute.

Provided by University of Rochester Medical Center

Plant Evolves To Become Less Visible to Humans (Botany)

A plant used in traditional Chinese medicine has evolved to become less visible to humans, new research shows.

Scientists found that Fritillaria delavayi plants, which live on rocky slopes of China’s Hengduan mountains, match their backgrounds most closely in areas where they are heavily harvested.

Fritillaria delavayi in a population with low harvest pressure. ©Yang Niu

This suggests humans are “driving” evolution of this species into new colour forms because better-camouflaged plants have a higher chance of survival.

The study was carried out by the Kunming Institute of Botany (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the University of Exeter.

“It’s remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the colouration of wild organisms, not just on their survival but on their evolution itself,” said Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Many plants seem to use camouflage to hide from herbivores that may eat them – but here we see camouflage evolving in response to human collectors.

“It’s possible that humans have driven evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species, but surprisingly little research has examined this.”

In the new study, the researchers measured how closely plants from different populations matched their mountain environment and how easy they were to collect, and spoke to local people to estimate how much harvesting took place in each location.

Fritillaria delavayi in a population with high harvest pressure. ©Yang Niu

They found that the level of camouflage in the plants was correlated with harvesting levels.

In a computer experiment, more-camouflaged plants also took longer to be detected by people.

Fritillaria delavayi is a perennial herb that has leaves – varying in colour from grey to brown to green – at a young age, and produces a single flower per year after the fifth year.

The bulb of the fritillary species has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, and high prices in recent years have led to increased harvesting.

“Like other camouflaged plants we have studied, we thought the evolution of camouflage of this fritillary had been driven by herbivores, but we didn’t find such animals,” said Dr Yang Niu, of the Kunming Institute of Botany. “Then we realised humans could be the reason.”

Professor Hang Sun, of the Kunming Institute of Botany, added: “Commercial harvesting is a much stronger selection pressure than many pressures in nature. “The current biodiversity status on the earth is shaped by both nature and by ourselves.”

References: Niu, Y; Stevens, M; Sun, H et al., “Commercial harvesting has driven the evolution of camouflage in an alpine plant”, Current Biology, 2020. https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/bitstream/handle/10871/123435/0-Plant%20camouflage%20revised_Formatted.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=n

Provided by University of Exeter

Highly Efficient, Long-lasting Electrocatalyst to Boost Hydrogen Fuel Production (Chemistry)

Surface oxygen adsorbed during synthesis of the single atomic alloy catalyst stabilizes the catalytic intermediate, ensuring a full cycle of water Oxidation.

Abundant. Clean. Flexible. Alluring enough to explain why hydrogen, the most common molecule in the universe happens to have its name as part of an national Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. Chosen to signify hydrogen’s atomic weight of 1.008, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy celebrates advances in hydrogen-use technology every October 8 since 2015. When hydrogen is consumed in a fuel cell (which takes the water molecule H2O and seperates it into oxygen and hydrogen, a process called electrolysis), it only produces water, electricity, and heat. As a zero-carbon energy source, the range of its potential use is limitless: transportation, commercial, industrial, residential, and portable.

Crystal structure of surface oxygen-rich metal alloy (top left). Oxygen and hydrogen are generated during a water electrolysis reaction (top right). The designed catalyst exhibits the best oxygen evolution activity with minimal overpotential (bottom panels). ©IBS

While traditional hydrogen production processes required fossil fuels or CO2, electrolysis produces “green hydrogen” from water molecules. Since water cannot be split into hydrogen and oxygen by itself, the electrochemical hydrogen-water conversion needs highly active electrocatalysts. The conventional water electrolysis, however, faces technological challenges to improve the efficiency of the water-splitting reaction for the sluggish oxygen evolution reaction. Noble metal-based ruthenium oxide (RuO2) and iridium oxide (IrO2) are used to enhance the oxygen generation rate. However, these noble metal catalysts are very expensive and show poor stability under long-term operation.

Led by Associate Director LEE Hyoyoung of the Center for Integrated Nanostructure Physics within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) located at Sungkyunkwan University, the IBS research team developed a highly efficient and long-lasting electrocatalyst for water oxidation using cobalt, iron, and a minimal amount of ruthenium. “We used ‘amphiphilic block copolymers’ to control electrostatic attraction in our single ruthenium (Ru) atom-bimetallic alloy. The copolymers facilitate the synthesis of spherical clusters of hydrocarbon molecules whose soluble and insoluble segments form the core and shell. In this study, their tendency for a unique chemical structure allows the synthesis of the “high-performance” single atomic Ru alloy present atop the stable cobalt iron (Co-Fe) metallic composite surrounded by porous, defective and graphitic carbon shell,” says LEE Jinsun and Kumar Ashwani, the co-first authors of the study.

“We were very excited to discover that pre-adsorbed surface oxygen on the Co-Fe alloy surface, absorbed during the synthesis process, stabilizes one of the important intermediates (OOH*) during the oxygen generation reaction, boosting the overall efficiency of the catalytic reaction. The pre-absorbed surface oxygen has been of little interest until our finding,” notes Associate Director Lee, the corresponding author of the study. The researchers found that four hour-annealing at 750°C in an argon atmosphere is the best appropriate condition for the oxygen generating process. In addition to the reaction-friendly environment on the host metal surface, the single Ru atom, where oxygen generation takes place, also fulfills its role by lowering the energy barrier, synergistically enhancing the efficiency of oxygen evolution.

The research team evaluated the catalytic efficiency with the overvoltage metrics needed for the oxygen evolution reaction. The advanced noble electrocatalyst required only 180 mV (millivolt) overvoltage to attain a current density of 10 mA (milliampere) per cm2 of catalyst, while ruthenium oxide needed 298 mV. In addition, the single Ru atom-bimetallic alloy showed long-term stability for 100 hours without any change of structure. Furthermore, the cobalt and iron alloy with graphitic carbon also compensated electrical conductivity and enhanced the oxygen evolution rate.

Associate Director Lee explains, “This study takes us a step closer to a carbon-free, and green hydrogen economy. This highly efficient and inexpensive oxygen generation electro-catalyst will help us overcome long-term challenges of the fossil fuel refining process: to produce high-purity hydrogen for commercial applications at a low price and in an eco-friendly manner.”

References: Jinsun Lee, Ashwani Kumar et al., “Stabilizing OOH* intermediate via pre-adsorbed surface oxygen of single Ru atom-bimetallic alloy for ultralow overpotential oxygen generation”, Royal society of Chemistry, Energy Environ. Sci.,2020. https://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2020/EE/D0EE03183F

Provided by Institute for Basic Science

New Type of Ultrahigh Piezoelectricity in Hydrogen-bonded Ferroelectrics (Physics)

Prevalent piezoelectric materials like barium titanate (BaTiO3) and lead zirconate titanate (PZT) possess high piezoelectric coefficients 20-800 pC/N, which are also ferroelectric. The Curie temperature of those ferroelectrics are mostly far above room temperature, so the change of polarization ΔP upon a strain at room temperature is approximately the same as ΔP0 at 0K.

The change of polarization upon a strain in (a) perovskite ferroelectrics and (b) HP ferroelectrics, where the black/green curve represent the dependence of polarization on temperature before/after a tensile strain is applied. Red, white and grey spheres denote O, H and C atoms respectively. ©Science China Press

Recently, scientists at Huazhong University of Science and Technology and at the Nanjing University in China proposed a new possibility of inducing ultra-high piezoelectric coefficient, which will be theoretically infinitely large if the Curie temperature is right at the working temperature and sensitive to strain. Well-known ferroelectric perovskites like BaTiO3 or PZT are not such candidates due to their high Curie temperature that is insensitive to strain. However, many hydrogen-bonded ferroelectrics with Curie temperature ranging from 200 to 400K can be ideal candidates, which are also soft, flexible and lead-free. For examples, the measured Curie temperature of organic PhMDA and [H-55DMBP][Hia] were respectively 363 and 268K. For hydrogen bonds like O-H…O, each proton will be covalently bonded to only one side of O atom due to the saturation of covalent bond. The O-H bond is on the verge of breaking at the hopping transition state where the proton locates at the midpoint. Due to the brittle nature of covalent bond, if the O-H…O bonds are prolonged upon a tensile strain, the hopping barrier as well as Curie temperature may be greatly enhanced with a much larger transfer distance. Meanwhile their hydrogen-bonded network can be easily compressed or stretched due to low bulk modulus.

The authors have shown first-principles evidence combined with Monte Carlo simulation, that the proton-transfer barriers as well as the Curie temperature of some hydrogen-bonded ferroelectrics can be approximately doubled upon a tensile strain of as low as 2 %. Their Curie temperature can be tuned exactly to room-temperature by applying a fixed strain in one direction, and the systems will exhibit ultra-high piezoelectricity in another direction. The unprecedented piezoelectric coefficient of 2058 pC/N obtained in PhMDA is more than 3 times higher than PZT, and an order of magnitude higher than the highest value obtained in current lead-free piezoelectrics. This value is even underestimated and can be greatly enhanced upon smaller strain. Since this proposed principle for such piezoelectricity can be applied to most hydrogen-bonded ferroelectrics, the large number of organic or inorganic candidates should facilitate its experimental realizations and optimizations in future, which will be a breakthrough for the long-sought lead-free high-coefficient piezoelectrics. This mechanism may also clarify the previously reported drastic rise in piezoelectric coefficient for SbSI when approaching its Curie temperature.

References: Yangyang Ren, Menghao Wu, Jun-Ming Liu, Ultra-high piezoelectric coefficients and strain-sensitive curie temperature in hydrogen-bonded systems, National Science Review, 2020, nwaa203, https://academic.oup.com/nsr/advance-article/doi/10.1093/nsr/nwaa203/5898684 https://doi.org/10.1093/nsr/nwaa203

Provided by Science China Press

Biofriendly Protocells Pump Up Blood Vessels (Biology / Chemistry)

An international team comprising researchers from the University of Bristol, and Hunan and Central South Universities in China, have prepared biocompatible protocells that generate nitric oxide gas – a known reagent for blood vessel dilation – that when placed inside blood vessels expand the biological tissue.

Enzyme-mediated Nitric Oxide Production in Vasoactive Erythrocyte Membrane-enclosed Coacervate Protocells. ©Nature Chemistry (2020).

In a new study published today in Nature Chemistry, Professor Stephen Mann and Dr Mei Li from Bristol’s School of Chemistry, together with Associate Professor Jianbo Liu and colleagues at Hunan University and Central South University in China, prepared synthetic protocells coated in red blood cell fragments for use as nitric oxide generating bio-bots within blood vessels.

Coating the protocells led to increased levels of biocompatibility and longer blood circulation times. Critically, the team trapped an enzyme inside the protocells which, in the presence of glucose, produced hydrogen peroxide. This was then used by haemoglobin in the protocell membrane to degrade the drug molecule hydroxyurea into nitric oxide gas.

When placed inside small pieces of blood vessels, or injected into a carotid artery, the protocells produced sufficient amounts of nitric oxide to initiate the biochemical pathways responsible for blood vessel vasodilation.

Although at a very early stage of development, the new approach could have significant benefits in biomedicine, cellular diagnostics and bioengineering.

Professor Stephen Mann, Co-Director of the Max Planck Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology at Bristol, said: “This work could open up a new horizon in protocell research because it highlights the opportunities for creating therapeutic, cell-like objects that can directly interface with living biological tissues.”

Associate Professor Jianbo Liu at Hunan University added: “We are all really excited about our proof-of-concept studies but there is a lot of work still to be done before protocells can be used effectively as bio-bots in therapeutic applications. But the potential looks enormous.”

References: Liu, S., Zhang, Y., Li, M. et al. Enzyme-mediated nitric oxide production in vasoactive erythrocyte membrane-enclosed coacervate protocells. Nat. Chem. (2020). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41557-020-00585-y https://doi.org/10.1038/s41557-020-00585-y

Provided by University of Bristol

Age Is No Barrier to Successful Weight Loss, New Study Finds (Biology)

University of Warwick-led study conducted at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) concludes that lifestyle changes to manage weight loss are effective in reducing obesity regardless of age.

  • Study of patients attending a hospital-based obesity service shows no difference in weight loss between those under 60 years old and those from 60 to 78 years old
  • The University of Warwick-led study conducted at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) concludes that lifestyle changes to manage weight loss are effective in reducing obesity regardless of age
  • Aims to dispel myths about effectiveness of weight loss in older people

Obese patients over the age of 60 can lose an equivalent amount of weight as younger people using only lifestyle changes, according to a new study from the University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust that demonstrates that age is no barrier to losing weight.

The researchers hope that their findings will help to correct prevailing societal misconceptions about the effectiveness of weight loss programmes in older people, as well dispel myths about the potential benefits of older people trying to reduce their weight.

The findings are based on analysis of patient records from a hospital-based obesity service and are reported in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.

This retrospective study was conducted at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (WISDEM) at UHCW. The researchers randomly selected 242 patients who attended the WISDEM-based obesity service between 2005 and 2016, and compared two groups (those aged under 60 years and those aged between 60 and 78 years) for the weight loss that they achieved during their time within the service.

All patients had their body weight measured both before and after lifestyle interventions administered and coordinated within the WISDEM-based obesity service, and the percentage reduction in body weight calculated across both groups. When compared, the two groups were equivalent statistically, with those aged 60 years and over on average reducing their body weight by 7.3% compared with a body weight reduction of 6.9% in those aged under 60 years. Both groups spent a similar amount of time within the obesity service, on average 33.6 months for those 60 years and over, and 41.5 months for those younger than 60 years.

The hospital-based programme used only lifestyle-based changes tailored to each individual patient, focusing on dietary changes, psychological support and encouragement of physical activity. Most of the patients referred to the obesity service were morbidly obese with BMIs typically over 40Kgm².

There are more than fifty co-morbidities of obesity that can be lessened as we lose weight, including diabetes, psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, osteoarthritis and other mechanical problems. Obesity is also linked to increased mortality and poor wellbeing.

Lead author Dr Thomas Barber of Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick said: “Weight loss is important at any age, but as we get older we’re more likely to develop the weight-related co-morbidities of obesity. Many of these are similar to the effects of aging, so you could argue that the relevance of weight loss becomes heightened as we get older, and this is something that we should embrace.

“There are a number of reasons why people may discount weight loss in older people. These include an ‘ageist’ perspective that weight-loss is not relevant to older people and misconceptions of reduced ability of older people to lose weight through dietary modification and increased exercise. Older people may feel that hospital-based obesity services are not for them. Service providers and policymakers should appreciate the importance of weight loss in older people with obesity, for the maintenance of health and wellbeing, and the facilitation of healthy ageing. Furthermore, age per se should not contribute towards clinical decisions regarding the implementation of lifestyle management of older people.

“Age should be no barrier to lifestyle management of obesity. Rather than putting up barriers to older people accessing weight loss programmes, we should be proactively facilitating that process. To do otherwise would risk further and unnecessary neglect of older people through societal ageist misconceptions.”

References: Leyden, E, Hanson, P, Halder, L, et al., ‘Older age does not influence the success of weight loss through the implementation of lifestyle modification’ is published in Clinical Endocrinology DOI: doi.org/10.1111/cen.14354 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cen.14354 Link: https://doi.org/10.1111/cen.14354

Provided by University of Warwick