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Category Archives: Immortality Medicine

How poor tobacco farmer Henrietta Lacks became a medical superstar after her death – Toronto Star

Posted: April 25, 2017 at 4:31 am

Oprah Winfrey discusses the challenges of playing Deborah Lacks, a woman intent on learning about the mother she never knew, in true-life HBO film, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks". ( The Associated Press )

Some 66 years after her death, Henrietta Lacks lives on daily and quite literally atop laboratory benches at Torontos Mount Sinai Hospital.

Indeed, cells taken from the cervical cancer that killed her in 1951 are still being cultured and used by the tonnes in labs around the globe, says biochemist Jim Woodgett, director of the hospitals Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.

Oh, we use them all the time, Woodgett says of the thriving cells dubbed HeLa after the two first initials of their original owners given and last names.

HeLa cells, which have unique properties, have become a basic and ubiquitous tool of biomedical research. Theyve also inspired a best-selling book, a long-running ethics debate, and are taking a star turn this weekend in an Oprah Winfrey movie debuting on HBO.

Without the knowledge of Lacks, a poor, African-American tobacco farmer from Virginia, cells harvested from that long-ago tumour biopsy began to be grown for human tissue research at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she was being treated in the Baltimore facilitys coloured ward.

And they just kept growing.

Unlike any seen before, Lackss cells would divide outside the body with abandon overspilling Petri dishes and test tubes that all previous human counterparts were hard-pressed to fill.

In medical terms, they proved immortal, says Woodgett, whose lab has used them to study cell division and protein function.

Lackss cells were famously used in the development of Dr. Jonah Salks polio vaccine in the early 1950s and in the creation of countless drugs and research advances worth untold billions of dollars since.

But they also entered a vortex of mounting ethics controversies and compensation claims that are explored as part of the Winfrey production, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

The movie is based on a 2010 book of the same name by author Rebecca Skloot. It also tells the story of Lackss life and the effect her cellular immortality had on her family and on medical research worldwide.

Her own life was short but spirited in the face of poverty, Skloot says in a phone interview.

She grew up in the very rural South during the era of segregation, Skloot says. She was descended from slaves who had worked this tobacco plantation that eventually she came to own a piece of.

Lacks had lived in one of the plantations former slave shacks, and she had borne five children before falling ill at age 30.

But she loved it down there; every story about her in the (nearby) town of Clover was about how much she loved it.

She was also loved by her family, friends and neighbours touched by her generosity.

She was sort of like this uber-mother, Skloot says. She just took care of everyone: her kids, her cousins kids, the neighbours kids. If you didnt have a girlfriend, shed find you one; if you didnt have a place to stay, you slept on a mattress in her hallway.

Her giving would extend far beyond the grave.

Lacks was first seen in 1951 by Johns Hopkins doctors, who would take two biopsies for diagnosis and research. About eight months later, she died. Even before her death, the cells had already spread to labs around the world.

But their human provenance had been largely forgotten.

In one of the books many memorable passages, a lab assistant at Lackss autopsy took in her painted toenails and was jarred by the sight, Skloot wrote.

Oh jeez, he thought, Shes a real person.

It dawned on him only then that the cells that had rocketed to scientific stardom had come from a live woman, one who bent down in a bathroom and carefully painted her nails red.

This type of human recognition by scientists acknowledging the people who produced the clusters of cells they detachedly employ was greatly bolstered for many researchers by Skloots book, says Woodgett, who also teaches a course on research ethics at the University of Toronto.

I think the movie will do the same, Woodgett says. I think the scientific community should embrace this as yet another learning lesson.

And the more that lesson is taken up, the greater the satisfaction for Skloot, who began to study the Lacks story as a graduate student in 1999.

That was one of the biggest motivations behind telling (it) in some ways, she says. Putting a human face to this incredibly important advance that every single person has benefited from.

Like most cervical cancers, Lackss was caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.

HPV can spark tumour growth by invading cells on the surface of the cervix, latching onto segments of their DNA and creating cancer-causing mutations.

The genome, Skloot explains, has three billion places where the virus can potentially land.

And by chance, the place where the HPV virus landed happened to turn on the most aggressive tumour gene that it could have, she says. So it really was like a one-in-three-billion chance that it could have landed right there and switched her cancer on in a way that was so incredibly aggressive for her and for science in a way that turned out to be very good.

HeLa cells have proven an undeniable boon to medicine for more than six decades, Skloot says.

Among other things, they have been used to grow viruses for vaccine development, study cancer, AIDS and cell division and to test the effects of radiation and poisons on human tissues. Theyve even been to space, where they were used to test the effects of microgravity on human tissues.

Also among their assets, Woodgett says, is the uniform platform they provide for researchers in every corner of the globe.

The worldwide use of the cells, he says, helps ensure that experiments conducted in Tokyo or Paris can be reliably reproduced and verified in Toronto or Boston.

Pretty much every university, every hospital research lab has these cells, he says.

Cells, including the HeLa versions, are grown in labs using mediums rich in glucose and other nutrients that prompt them to divide.

But normally cells will divide only a certain number of times, even under the best conditions, and then theyll stop, Woodgett says.

Normal cell lines will grow, in a Petri dish for example, until they are all touching and then theyll stop, he says, a process known as contact inhibited. Further growth relies on splitting these up and placing the separated cells into other vessels. But even then, cells will stop growing after two or three of these separations or passages, Woodgett says.

Immortalized cells will just divide and divide and divide and they dont tend to be contact inhibited, he says. Theyll pile up on top of each other and they also grow indefinitely.

For the Lacks family, which now includes great-grandchildren, theres an ongoing pride in the lifesaving advances the cells have supported and in their reminder for scientists like Woodgett of the humanity beneath their microscopes.

They talk about that a lot, how they feel its so important for scientists to really learn the story of Henrietta and her family and the impact all of this had on them, Skloot says. They hope that in the future other people dont have to have the same experiences.

For Henriettas husband, David, and their children, those experiences began in 1973, 22 years after her death, when researchers came knocking to enrol them in studies. Having had no notion that their wife and mother was living on in medical fame and cellular reality, this scientific onslaught was traumatic.

Her daughter Deborah Lacks the Winfrey character and the soul of Skloots book was especially disturbed by the researchers arrival, thinking theyd come to tell her that she too might be dying of cancer.

She knew her mother died around the age of 30 and Deborah always lived in fear of her own 30th birthday (which was then approaching), Skloot says. So this just seemed like her worst fears coming true.

Eventually, Deborah, who died of a heart attack in 2009, came to see the cells in a spiritual fashion, as the selfless presence in the world of a mother shed barely known.

She really believed that her mother was chosen as an angel, brought back to life to take care of these people, says Skloot, who became close with the daughter over the decade she worked on the book.

She felt that Henrietta in life was such a caretaker and such a mother to so many people and that in death shes essentially doing the same thing curing diseases and really taking care of people.

Other members of the family, however, felt hurt and resentful at the absence of their consent to use the cells and over the huge amounts of money theyd generated.

Learning from journalists in the 1970s that the cells were being bought, sold and employed in medical breakthroughs, Henriettas sons became enraged, says Skloot, who is played in the movie by Australian actress Rose Byrne.

They found that out and they were like, Oh, wait a minute, if her cells are so important to medicine, why cant we (afford to) go to the doctor? And if people are buying and selling them wheres our cut?

Courts and legislators internationally have weighed in on the money issue, deciding that payments will not be owed for tissues or genetic information used in research or biotech advances.

Most of the Lacks family has come to accept this, Skloot says. Many family members have made extensive speaking appearances extolling Lackss legacy, and fostering pride in her contributions.

But the current generation met a new outrage in 2013 when a group of German scientists sequenced the HeLa cells genome and posted the results online.

It was the German work that finally revealed the genetic secrets of the cells immortality raising the possibility they could be used to immortalize other cell lines.

But it also exposed genetic information about any of Lackss living descendants who would share large segments of her genome but, yet again, were not informed about and gave no consent for the sequencing or its publication.

Legally, researchers didnt have to seek consent, Skloot says. For the scientific community, however, the sequencing and posting caused an uproar.

They were like what? Skloot says. Of course we were all curious about the genome, but are you kidding? You did this without talking to her family? Have you read the book?

After consulting the family, Skloot persuaded the researchers to remove the information. And now two of Lackss descendants sit on a U.S. National Institutes of Health board that decides who can use her genetic information and for what purposes.

Nothing like this ever happened where either research participants or tissue donors are part of the process, Skloot says. The family wanted this genome to help the world, but also basically wanted this whole (lack of consent) process to stop with this generation.

Still, other legal and ethical issues raised by Lackss case remain sticking points.

Key among these, says clinical ethicist Michael Szego, is informed consent: the right of a patient to explicitly approve involvement in medical trials or the laboratory use of tissues or other clinical information with a clear understanding of the research involved.

The notion of consent, however, was largely absent at the time of Lackss treatments, Skloot says.

They went in and they took these samples and it was totally standard at the time, she says. They were taking samples from really anybody they could get their hands on.

We didnt even have the term informed consent.

Today that has partly changed under rules observed in most advanced medical systems, says Szego, acting director of the Centre for Clinical Ethics, a joint venture of St. Michaels Hospital, St. Josephs Health Centre and Providence Healthcare.

If Henrietta Lacks were to walk into Johns Hopkins today and get her cervical cancer biopsied (for research) they would need to get her consent prior to doing that, he says.

And Woodgett notes that patients would often need to give further consent before their tissues were used in new and different research.

As well, Szego says, no tissues of genetic anomalies used in research today can be labelled with identifying information.

Yet even today, consent is strictly required only for tissues explicitly obtained for medical research, Szego says.

Cells or other materials taken during routine treatments an artery snipped out during heart surgery for example are considered medical waste and can be used in labs without the approval of patients from whom theyre taken, he says.

So does the movie do justice to Lackss story and the medical and ethical complexities it has raised?

Like many authors whose books have been brought to the screen, Skloot is somewhat ambivalent about the Winfrey movie.

I had 400 pages to tell the story so I got to say everything I wanted to say about Henrietta, about the science, about just everything, she says.

Much of this rich detail was jettisoned for the 95-minute movie. As a writer I want every single fact in a movie, Skloot says. But on balance, she believes Deborah Lacks would have approved.

Of course there are some things in it that are fictionalized, she says.

But I think in essence it really captures Deborahs desires and her quest and her journey in a way that I think she would be happy with.

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Cheating Death: A Neurosurgical History of Human Resuscitation, Reanimation, and the Pursuit of Immortality – Newswise (press release)

Posted: at 4:31 am

Newswise Winner of the Vesalius Award, Michael Bohl, MD, presented his research, Cheating Death: A Neurosurgical History of Human Resuscitation, Reanimation, and the Pursuit of Immortality, during the 2017 American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) Annual Scientific Meeting.

For millennia, adventurers searched for the mythical Fountain of Youth in hopes of achieving immortality. The late European Renaissance saw the emergence of a more practical method for pursuing longevity: evidence-based medicine. This historical analysis details the last 500 years of physician-led efforts to cheat death, and specifically, the neurosurgeons role in the scientific and literary canons of human immortality.

Case reports of hypothermic patients surviving typically fatal circumstances prompted early surgical pioneers, such as John Hunter, to perform the first methodical experiments on human resuscitation. His work with hypothermia and electrical stimulation interested The Royal Humane Society, which years later sponsored an infamous attempt by Giovanni Aldini to reanimate the body of an executed criminal before a crowd of Londons social elite. Attending this reanimation was William Godwin, whose descriptions of this event inspired his daughter, Mary Shelley, to write Frankenstein. Temple Fay introduced modern medicine to the neuro-protective power of hypothermia. Although his work was derailed by Nazi physicians at the Dachau concentration camp, he successfully inspired a new generation of neurosurgeons, such as R.J. White. Under hypothermic cerebrovascular arrest, R.J. White successfully performed the first primate head transplant, catching the attention of Russian scientists who were hoping to achieve a method for extending life indefinitely via head transplantation. These efforts coincided and prompted the release of numerous literary and visual works depicting neurosurgeons as mad-scientists and inspired Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero to plan the first human head transplant for 2017.

Author Block: Tyler Steed, MD/PhD; Evgenii Belykh, MD; Nilkolay Martirosyan, MD, PhD; and Mark Preul, MD

Disclosure: The author reported no conflicts of interest.

Media Representatives: The 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting press section will include releases on highlighted scientific research, AANS officers and award winners, Neurosurgery Awareness Month and other relevant information about the 2017 program. Releases will be posted under the Media area on the 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting website. If you have interest in a topic related to neurosurgery or would like to interview a neurosurgeon either onsite or via telephone during the event, please contact Alice Kelsey, AANS associate executive director, via email at

About the 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting: Attended by neurosurgeons, neurosurgical residents, medical students, neuroscience nurses, clinical specialists, physician assistants, allied health professionals and other medical professionals, the AANS Annual Scientific Meeting is the largest gathering of neurosurgeons in the nation, with an emphasis on the fields latest research and technological advances. The scientific presentations accepted for the 2017 event will represent cutting-edge examples of the incredible developments taking place within the field of neurosurgery. Find additional information about the 2017 AANS Annual Scientific Meeting and the meeting program here.

Founded in 1931 as the Harvey Cushing Society, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) is a scientific and educational association with more than 10,000 members worldwide. The AANS is dedicated to advancing the specialty of neurological surgery in order to provide the highest quality of neurosurgical care to the public. Fellows of the AANS are board-certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or the Mexican Council of Neurological Surgery, A.C. Neurosurgery is the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of disorders that affect the spinal column, spinal cord, brain, nervous system and peripheral nerves.

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Dragon Ball Super Episode 87 Recap And Review: "Universal … – Bam! Smack! Pow!

Posted: at 4:31 am

Image Courtesy of Toei Animation

Gotham Season 3, Episode 15 Synopsis: Heroes Rise: How The Riddler Got His Name by Steve Lam

Chris Pratt Explains What Fans Can Expect From Avengers: Infinity War by Erik Swann

The Universal Survival Saga for Dragon Ball Superfocuses on the Tournament of Power. The tournament involves eight out of the twelve existing universes. Ten of the strongest in each universe will fight in a Battle Royal-style match. The losing universes will be eliminated by the Omni-Kings.

On the previous episode of Dragon Ball Super, Goku and No.17 met for the first time. Goku visited No.17 to convince him to join the team. What we ended up getting was the fight that we never had the chance to see in Dragon Ball Z. In the end, No.17 declined Gokus request. Will Goku convince him this episode?

The episode begins with Goku continuing to persuade No.17. Giving one last effort, he mentions that the reward for the winning team is the Super Dragon Balls. He adds that the Super Dragon Balls are planet-sized and more powerful than the Earth ones. No.17 is slightly intrigued.

Before No.17 can decide, his attention is averted by the roar of the Minotaurus. An alien ship (which we saw at the end of the last episode) appears above the island. The ship starts beaming up all the animals on the island. We learned on the last episode that the aliens main target was the Minotaurus.

Goku and No.17 race to enter the spaceship. However, the ship closes before they can enter. Goku uses his Instant Transmission to enter the ship. They are confronted by henchmen. No.17 tells Goku to be careful. He mentions damaging the spaceship will cause it to crash, killing all the animals.

The episode shifts to Krillin and No.18. No.18 expresses concern over Goku and No.17. She mentions that both are similar and have an immature side.

We return to Goku and No.17. They easily deal with the henchmen. Theyre confronted by two bigger henchmen. No.17 tells Goku to deal with them, and hell go after the main boss. Goku mentions that he wants to fight the main boss. The two henchmen attack the two. No.17 dodges them and escapes, able to pursue the main boss. This leaves Goku to deal with the two henchmen.

No.17 confronts the boss. The boss summons two henchmen to attack No.17. He deals with them with ease. The boss is surprised at No.17s strength. The boss decides to attack, but No.17 counters, knocking him back.

Image Courtesy of Toei Animation

Goku catches up with them. No.17 asks the boss why hes after the Minotaurus. The boss mentions that the Minotaurus horns sell for a lot of money. He adds that some believe the horns can create immortality medicine. But the boss only cares about the money. He offers Goku and No.17 money, but both refuse.

No.17 approaches the boss and kicks him to the side. The boss reveals that he has a device that can self-destruct the whole ship. This stops Goku and No.17 in their tracks.

The boss pushes the button on the device and the ship explodes. Well, not really. We transition to Beerus, who wakes up from a dream. He mentions that he had a dream that Goku had died (the dream being that the ship exploded). Beerus screams that the dream is a bad omen.

We return to Goku and No.17 (still alive and well). The boss is still threatening the two with the device. He mentions a self-destructive device implanted in his body. He tells them that if they let him go, he wont destroy the ship. No.17 decides to sacrifice himself to save the animals. He tells Goku to take care of the animals. He then grabs the boss and flies out of the spaceship. Goku uses his Instant Transmission to catch up with them. He transfers them to King Kais planet.

Image Courtesy of Toei Animation

He tells King Kai that the boss has a self-destructive bomb in him. And he brought him to the planet like he did with Cell. Goku notifies King Kai that the boss isnt strong enough to handle the gravity on the planet, so King Kai has nothing to worry about.

Goku receives a message from Dende. He tells Goku that the boss was lying about having a self-destruct device in his body. No.17 tells the boss to press the switch on the device. The boss presses the switch and confetti flies out his nose. It turns out the device was for a surprise birthday party planned for later.

Goku and No.17 return to Earth. They land the ship safely back on the island. The animals are all let out. As for the boss, he and his henchmen are all arrested by Jaco (the Galactic Patrolman)turns out he had been after the aliens for years. Jaco leaves with the aliens in his own ship.

No.17 lets Goku know that he will join the team. He mentions that hell leave the island to Trunks and Goten. He adds that he will use the Super Dragon Balls to wish for a large cruise ship. His dream is to travel the world with his family. The episode ends with 23 hours and 20 minutes until the start of the tournament.

The episode had a lot of fun elements to it. The highlight was Goku teaming with No.17. The ending of the episode played on how Gokus villains eventually turn to allies. No.17 told Goku that he couldnt believe he wanted to kill him before. Goku responded that Tien, Piccolo, Vegeta, and Buu were all the same.

This episode had nice comedic elements to it also. Beerus and King Kai both provided laugh out loud moments. Even in a serious storyline, the anime still manages to sneak in that famous Dragon Ball humor.

In terms of the storyline, this was another filler episode. The only story advancement is No.17s joining the team. But with the tournament closing in, we expect things to pick up.

What were your thoughts on this episode? Let us know in the comments.

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Aside from Oprah, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks leaves us wanting – Salon

Posted: April 23, 2017 at 12:20 am

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is Emmy bait. No need to describe it otherwise. HBO is skilled in the ways of positive attraction when it comes to industry awards, and the channel is likely banking on multiple nominations for its adaptation of Rebecca Skloots extraordinary book.

The deadline for Emmy entries is May 31; as such, April is when the floodgates open and our DVR and streaming service watchlists bloat with must-watch, absolutely-cannot-miss series and specials.

And The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, debuting Saturday at 8 p.m., merely falls into the category of should watch. Not must watch, not cannot miss, but should and not due to George C. Wolfes workmanlike direction of the overall piece, but to witness what Oprah Winfrey does with her role.

Granted, the title has a built-in appeal that should guarantee decent tune-in; Skloots nonfiction work spent 75 weeks on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, riveting readers with the story of the woman behind the cell line known as HeLa, the first to survive and reproduce apart from its donor.

Since it was first discovered in 1951, HeLas cell strain has been given to labs around the world for research and experimentation. In 1954, a company began selling HeLa cells, giving birth to the multibillion-dollar biomedical industry. HeLa enabled Jonas Salk to create his polio vaccine, and it has since been used by scientists to aid in the battles against tuberculosis, cancer and countless viruses. In-vitro fertilization, treatments for Parkinsons disease, HPV and flu inoculations all of these life-saving advances are thanks to HeLa and Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells gave rise to the strain.

Only a handful of people knew of Henrietta Lacks game-changing contribution to medicine namely the doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore who harvested her tissue as she lay dying, without her knowledge or her consent, and without offering compensation to her family. Lacks relatives only found out when a doctor let that information slip while taking samples of their blood years after HeLas discovery. Much later Skloot would share this information with the world.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is not a story about reconciliation or justice, but resolution, revelation and legacy moving ideas but, as shown in the film, lacking in dramatic tension. HBOs movie condenses Skloots work into a winding and somewhat facile tale of unconventional friendship, following the author (played by Rose Byrne) as she sorts through frayed threads of the Lacks familys memories about Henrietta.

The family has been taken advantage of by outsiders many times over the years, so they are hesitant to help Rebecca until Henriettas daughter Deborah Lacks (Winfrey) insists. Deborahs decades-long yearning to stitch together a more complete memory of a mother she pines for drives her, clutching at her heart; Henriettas medical records are all that she has, and Deborah guards them with an explosive fierceness.

Byrne plays Skloot and does an able job of capturing the determined and friendly curiosity of a journalist while believably conveying a muddle of unease and fear in the moments that Deborahs moods take a darker turn. But Winfreys realistic portrayal of Deborahs frequent and unpredictable shifts between manic optimism, blind rage and quavering despair eclipse everything around her.

Simply put, Winfrey has more colors to paint with in Deborah than Byrne gets with her character. It must be said, Byrne does a fine job. But Winfreys performance is a physical and temperamental whirlwind. Her Deborah walks with an unsteady imbalance, yet Rebecca struggles mightily to keep up and meet her energy. Curbing her changing moods, Rebecca finds, is all but impossible.

As telefilms go, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is solid and perhaps a bit too economic in its execution, and this makes it fall short of creatively soaring. That takes nothing away from its performances, which are the reason to tune in and the hook that may keep you watching. Henrietta looms large in Deborahs life, and Rene Elise Goldsberrys luminous presence, seen in flashbacks, more than does justice to her memory.

Rocky Carroll, Reg E. Cathey and Leslie Uggams deliver portrayals that grant Henriettas loved ones a share of benediction in spite of the emotional impoverishment and misery they suffered after her loss. Winfrey, though, is the magnetic center in a piece held together by its performances. The film itself may not achieve Emmy immortality, but Winfrey has a powerful shot.

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Expert: Human Immortality Could Be Acquired Through AI – Futurism

Posted: at 12:20 am

In Brief In a recent interview, researcher Alex Zhavoronkov talked about how he believes AI will help humanity defeat aging. His company, Insilico Medicine, is already at the forefront of using AI as a tool to facilitate the development of drugs that combat age-related diseases. Anti-Aging Research

More and more scientists are convinced that aging, while a natural phenomenon experienced by all living creatures, is a disease that can be treated or even cured. Scientists, generally, have taken different approaches to aging in that regard. Somewant to slow down the process, while others seek to put a stop to it altogether. Those in the latter group see no limit in our potential toextend human life.

These efforts are fueled by the latest technologies science has to offer. Among theseisthe use of stem cellscombined with genetic and cellular manipulation. More recently, researchers have been testing the rejuvenating effects of proteins found in human blood. Still others propose using a certain type of bacteriato keep old age at bay.

Then theres Alex Zhavoronkov. Hes the director of both the International Aging Research Portfolio (IARP) and theBiogerontology Research Foundation, as well as the CEO of bioinformatics company Insilico Medicine. His idea seems straight out of science fiction. Instead of fearing artificial intelligence (AI) asthe harbinger of humanitys demise, Zhavoronkov wants to use AI to defeat aging.

Is human immortalityto be found in the hands of AI? Zhavoronkov thinks it may be, and he explained why in an interview withthe Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF).

Zhavoronkov highlighted the work Insilico is doing to combat aging and age-related illnesses. One project is an algorithm called OncoFinder, which analyzes the molecular pathways associated with the growth and development of cancer and aging. I think that applying AI to aging is the only way to bring it under the comprehensive medical control, Zhavoronkov said. Our long-term goal is to continuously improve human performance and prevent and cure the age-related diseases.

He explained further:

In 5 years, we want to build a comprehensive system to model and monitor the human health status and rapidly correct any deviations from the ideal healthy state with lifestyle or therapeutic interventions. Considering what we already have, I hope that we will be able to do it sooner than in 5 years [] One of our major contributions to the field was the application of deep neural networks for predicting the age of the person. People are very different and have different diseases. I think that this approach is novel and will result in many breakthroughs.

Zhavoronkov also explained the important role AI has in facilitating the development of drugs that could treat aging and age-related diseases. Our AI ecosystem is comprised of multiple pipelines, he said. With our drug discovery and biomarker development pipelines, we can go after almost every disease [] And since we are considering aging as a form of disease, many of the same algorithms are used to develop biomarkers and drugs to prevent and possibly even restore aging-associated damage.

For Zhavoronkov, AIs potential impact on humankindgoes far beyond the possibility that it could cause a singularity apocalypse it could actually be the very thing that saves us from death.

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Roush Review: Oprah Winfrey in ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ – TVInsider

Posted: at 12:20 am

Review Quantrell Colbert/HBO

Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Surely Oprah Winfrey knows a thing or two about immortality. Never one to play it safe, the pop-culture icon and industry mogul once again demonstrates her range by channeling emotional authenticity into the demanding role of Deborah Lacks, a woman of unstable temperament yearning to find out more about Henrietta, the mother she never knew but who was known to science as a once-anonymous medical legend.

In tackling the tricky task of adapting the nonfiction bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks into a prestige HBO movie, director and co-writer George C. Wolfe turns the story into a moving road trip of discovery, not just for Deborah but for the viewer, who may be just as unaware of Henrietta's posthumous contributions to medicine. Only decades after Henrietta's premature death from cancer in 1951 did her family learn that her rare immortal cells (code named "HeLa"), harvested without her consent, astonishingly lived on and were reproduced, continuing to this day to be used as an invaluable tool of research in developing vaccines and treating diseases.

Enter journalist/author Rebecca Skloot (an overeager Rose Byrne), who's obsessed with the goal of rescuing Henrietta from obscurity, but first must win over the wary and embittered Lacks family that a perky, giggly white freelance reporter can do justice to her story. As Deborah and Rebecca embark on a journey into Henrietta's past, unearthing demons that unsettle the possibly bipolar Deborah, theirs is an often testy and tested relationship.

Sometimes learning is just as painful as not knowing, one observer warns, and there is traumatic yet necessary catharsis along the way as Henrietta (a luminous Rene Elise Goldsberry) comes into focus, finally getting the respect and thanks she deserves. You might wish the movie spent as much time with Henrietta as it does with her daughter and the intrepid writer, but even if it sends you to the book to learn more, The Immortal Life will have done its job.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Premieres Saturday, April 22, 8/7c, HBO

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Cameron Smith: Rugby league genius, top bloke – The Roar

Posted: April 21, 2017 at 1:55 am

Even haters dont hate Cameron Smith. All those keyboard kooks in Twitter Land who get a horn from hating something, anything, and throwing their self-loathing gibber around the e-waves, even those clowns dont hate Cameron Smith.

Smith is universally-regarded: Top Bloke.

Maybe not universally. Theres people would be boo Santa delivering life-saving medicine.

But, in the main, even to those who arent Queenslanders or Storm boys, people nod and look at Cam Smith and think, Cam Smith? Respect.

Old blokes like him because he looks like they looked in the 50s and 60s: tight, sensible. Neither arm full of tattoos. No expensive haircut. He looks like a man should: Military, old school. A man.

Girls like him, too, though they dont fling themselves like hot muffins as they do spunkier boys.

Smith appeals to women more than girls. His is a mans face, a handsome enough mug; shades of Colin Farrell; dark, low eye-brows; prickly three-day growth.

To young men hes the wise and wry wise-cracker, the older bro whod lend you fifty. Dudes arent jealous of him. Unlike some from the fractious, gilded man-youth of his e-generation,

Smith doesnt drink alco-pops, wear flash threads nor squire gimlet-eyed hotties.

Hes a beer man. Schooners of Carlton. Drives a Kingswood. Got a Harley. Top Bloke.

Referees like Smith because he doesnt front them, get big in their faces. Where others (fools) rush in, waving arms, all sweat and spit and indignation, swearing, Waddyafugginmean!? yes, you James Graham Smith just asks a question: Talk us through that one, sir. He barely even tilts an eye-brow.

And the refs, respected, think, Top Bloke, and find him hard to penalise.

People like him because he doesnt look like a roid-engorged monster-man. He looks like a knockabout from your social golf club, a tradesman wholl do you a love-job for a carton. Top Bloke. All-Aussie.

Even when News Ltds papers published television screen shots of several illegal tackles in a State of Origin and the minutes of the match in which they occurred, there wasnt an uproar, especially.

The usual keyboard warriors went at it. A couple of radio jocks opined. But the general sentiment was, well, its State of Origin. There is room for the grubby.

And anyway, its Cam Smith. And hes a Top Bloke. And a great bloody player.

Great? One of the greatest ever, pal.

The marvel of Smith is not his: super-smart work from dummy-half; slick ball-work at the ruck; darting snipes; subtle dummies; soft hands; innate combination with Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater; veritable genius of a left foot; frozen-rope goals; flawless defence; fitness; precision; guile; bravery; strength; leadership; nor winning ways of rugby league.

At least not entirely.

For while those are all fine traits and the mark of a Great Player And Future Immortal, Smiths greatest trick is that he does all this stuff as if hes driving down the shops for milk and bread, laidback like a pot-head in a hammock.

Smith will make 50 tackles and wont have messy hair.

Smiths defence is technically excellent because its always had to be. Since he was a little tacker hes been the same size relative to others. That being an aptly-named the accountant compared to the other mobs blood-gargling Vikings.

But Smith is sinewy strong. Like a tradesman whos been on the tools a decade, he has muscles where they matter. He is hard rather than showy. Hes a nerd not a Julio.

I once shared a Chinese meal with two Raiders giants, Tom Leahroyd-Lars and Dane Tilse. And both admitted to being frightened of running at Smith lest he make them look stupid.

It doesnt mean you dont try, smiled Leahroyd-Lars. You still try to run over him. But hes very hard to shove off.

Like Allan Langer did, Smith can get up and inside the ribs of the giants, inveigle himself, and use the bigger mans weight to hurl him down face first.

Few years ago I was ringside at an Anzac Test in Canberra, the yearly exhibition of Kangaroo dominance over Kiwi.

Smith had his usual game-face on: The Mask. And he was just there, playing, scheming, doing little things perfectly.

A grubber, a show-and-go dummy it was subtle, super-effective stuff. The surgeon thing rings true. He carved the Kiwis and they scarcely even knew it.

He was giving up 20-30 kilos of mobile muscle to the games biggest Vikings in that case ridiculous man-beasts Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Jesse Bromwich and bringing them down, and holding them there, humping dirt.

For another of Smiths greatest tricks is his work on the deck, slowing play-the-ball. A little ankle-tug here, a head move there, a chin-cup. These plays dont hurt his opponent but they do subtly, briefly immobilise them.

And in a game in which ruck speed is crucial, Smiths body-work wins games. As Learoyd-Lahrs said over Mongolian lamb: When hes got you on the ground hes always gaining that extra second.

My mate Matt Hill, an Australian rep judo man, reckon its due to hours of practice at judo and Brazilian Jujitsu.

To manipulate players, to turn them onto their backs and control them, you have to maintain control of the head, says Hill. And Smith knows this.

Hills been thirty years in judo and says he can recognise league players whove been drilled in the dark arts.

Hill reckons were Smith to retire tomorrow he could enter and immediately compete in blue belt Brazilian Jujitsu competition.

A lot of players have Smiths skills. But only the gilded few have all of them all of the time. Smiths greatness and youd wager one day his Immortality is that he pulls them off near-perfectly every game.

Doesnt matter if its Round 4 in Campbelltown or Origin Decider. Smith just plays. Right option, right time.

And hes done it for a decade. Hes the fulcrum in the games three best teams Storm, Queensland, Australia.

Hes the fulcrum of perhaps the games greatest three-prong death squad The Big Three.

Cronk might be credited with more Try Assists and Men-of-Matches.

Slater has scored more long-range tries to the delighted squeals of girls. (My wife calls Slater My Billy.)

But Cronk and Slater do their thing on the back Smiths perfect, soft passes butterflies wafting into waiting hands. Cronk and Slater dont have to think.

And when they do think, they think, Cam Smith. Heck of a player. Top bloke.

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David McCullough: President Trump’s Disregard for History Is ‘Utter Nonsense’ – TIME

Posted: April 19, 2017 at 9:31 am

Over the course of nearly 50 years, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough has traveled across the U.S. speaking to audiences at universities, the White House and even before a joint session of Congress about the lessons of history. Some of his most recent speeches are compiled in his new book The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For , out Tuesday.

McCullough sat down with TIME to talk about why he's publishing this anthology now, how history will judge us and what the past can teach our presidents.

TIME: Why compile your speeches now?

McCullough: I felt it necessary. The time was right. We began work last summer as the campaign got moreoff track. We have to remind ourselves of what we believe in, in the way of standard behavior, standard dedication, standard patriotism. And in order to do that, you have to understand history. Weve been raising several generations of young Americans who are, by and large, historically illiterate. And it's not that theyre not bright. It's not that theyre indifferent to learning. It's not that theyve grown up with great disadvantages. Its not their fault. It's our fault. Almost 80% of colleges and universities no longer require history for graduation.

What should history classes focus on to be the most useful in today's world?

History is about people. History is about cause and effect. History is about leadership or lack thereof, or twisted vision that inflicts its mistakes upon leaders. As I point out in the book, the best of our presidents, using the presidency as a model of leadership, were all avid readers of history. Several of them were historians. Woodrow Wilson was professionally, a professor at Princeton. Theodore Roosevelt wrote one of the best histories of the Naval War of 1812. John Kennedy wrote three works of history, one of which, Profiles in Courage , is still a very good book. Dwight Eisenhower wrote one of the best books ever written on World War II. And he wrote every word himself.

Even if you do nothing it has an effect. It isnt just that the effect comes from action. It can come from inaction. Some of the best decisions ever made by our presidents are when they decided not to do something. Harry Truman decided he would not use the atomic bomb in Korea. General Eisenhower decided not to go into Vietnam. John Adams decided not to go to war with France when it would have been disastrous, and it made him very unpopular. So when you take that job, you have to not only understand how the government works, but you have to understand how human beings work, and that people are imperfect. Were so inclined to portray the heroes of the Revolutionary War era as all perfect. No, they werent perfect.

How can we judge that? Should we use today's standards to assess those leaders, or just the standards of the time in which they lived?

First you have to understand the time in which they lived. There was no simpler time, ever. There was no easier time, ever. Unless you understand what it was like to go through the Civil War, what the influenza epidemic of 1918 was like, you have no appreciation of that. History is an antidote to the hubris of the present. History should be a lesson that produces immense gratitude for all those who went before us. To be ignorant of their contribution is rude. And for anyone in public life to brag about how they dont know any history and dont care to know any history is irresponsible.

President Trump has expressed admiration for Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Douglas MacArthur and George Patton. What does that say about the type of leader he aspires to be?

He's said he does not read history, or presidential biographies, because, as he said , he has a mind that can reach beyond all that. Thats utter nonsense. Thats ego-centric illusion. To me, its as if weve put someone in the pilot seat who has never flown a plane or even read about how you do it. So we have to cope with it, by counteracting that, with young people coming along that realize that this is a lesson in how not to be a leader.

Is he the reason you wrote this book?

Yes. But let me stress: I never mention his name in the book. I'm talking to all Americans. I'm talking as much to the people who voted for him as much as the people who voted against him. Let's get this momentary spasm were going through over with as soon as possible and out of our minds. We have to try to figure out how to get back on track.

Do you think America is truly exceptional? Should students be taught that?

I think America has come further in giving opportunity to the best thats in human nature than any other country ever in history, and we seem to be holding on for over 200 years already. Weve greatly improved the inequalities and the shortcomings of our way of life as weve moved forward. One of the things I feel is that we are a country of good people. We are a country of well-meaning, hard-working, conscientious people 90% of us. And, we are blessed with progress in a number of fields today, the likes of which no people on Earth have ever enjoyed in all of history. Think just for example of whats happened in medicine. Think of the improvements that have been made in the opportunity for education. We have the strongest, most powerful, well-equipped military force in the world. I am optimistic. I dont think we should feel because weve got this clown holding stage that thats what were destined to do from now on.

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What name should historians give this period of history were living in?

It's not my profession to judge things now. Youve got to wait 50 years. But Im sure they will wonder what in the world overcame us.

You were on the first board of scholars for the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which opens this week. What are its most valuable artifacts in your opinion, the ones that people should make sure to see...

I dont think the artifacts are the most important.

So what is important about the museum's collection?

What's so important about it is its the first museum on the subject of the American Revolution that weve ever had. And, underline this, we can never know enough about the American Revolution if we want to understand who we are, why we are the way we are, and why weve accomplished what weve been able to accomplish that no other country has.

What do you think future historians will think of the material that we'll leave them from today?

Were producing so much for future historians that they may be just overwhelmed, because so much of it is redundant and boring. Theres a record of everything, every day. Facebook, for Gods sake! It's like a landslide, every day, of stuff.

So the fact that were not writing letters to each other wont hurt them?

Oh, thats a huge loss. Huge loss, because no one in public life would dare keep a diary anymore. It could be subpoenaed and used against you in court. And nobody writes letters. If youre interested in immortality, start keeping a diary, and when you get to the point when you think maybe the curtain is going to come down on you, give it to the Library of Congress, and youll be quoted forever because it will be the only diary ever in existence.

Is there a particular biography you wish you had written or would like to see a historian write? Some figure who you think is ripe for exploration?

I think theres a good biography to be written about Gerald Ford. He was a far more interesting figure of depth as a leader than hes given credit for.

What's your favorite historical monument or museum in the U.S. or abroad?

The Shaw Memorial in Boston. A powerful one, in the extreme, because it gives the black troops that served in the [Civil] War a chance to be seen as individuals and not just mechanical figures.

Favorite library?

The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the greatest library in the world. Do you know what my favorite statistic is? There are still more public libraries in this country than Starbucks .

Favorite movie that's based on a historical event?

My favorite movies arent of real events. Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart. Some Like It Hot.

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Easter and the Transhumanists – National Review

Posted: April 17, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Physical immortality: Why not? Because its impossible: We dont know anyone who has it and we dont understand how it would work, either the biology or the psychology or the politics.

Telomeres shrink and cells stop dividing eventually. And if they didnt and each of us had the potential to live forever, wed have to stop having children. Otherwise the fight for food would become fierce. Most of us would starve. And, until we did, the traffic on Route 17 would be unbearable.

The ways that physical immortality for human individuals could go wrong are countless. Granted, if everyone forwent procreation, we could forget the dystopian scenarios stemming from overpopulation, but wouldnt the cost of our immortality then be that humanity would stagnate? On your millionth birthday and no end in sight, wouldnt you wonder, Whats the point?

Meet the transhumanists. They come in different stripes. Some think that we can make an end run around death by uploading our consciousness to computers. Thats not physical immortality, though. Its mindbody dualism or, more accurately, contempt for the body, the assumption being that its of no account. This is no project for athletes or supermodels or anyone who may be weak or plain but nonetheless enjoys being a specimen of Homo sapiens.

Others look for physical immortality through better bioengineering. They havent cleared the second hurdle, the social and emotional complications that would arise if they reached their goal, because they havent cleared the first hurdle yet, the stubbornness of death. The Hayflick limit is harder than diamond. They aim to break it and thereby to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Promethean? Quixotic would be closer to the truth.

Yet others, more modest, seek merely to improve their health and vigor in the final third or so of what they hope will turn out to be their 120-year excursion from conception to natural death. They call what they do life extension. Its one part conventional Western medicine, one part alternative medicine, and one part common sense: Watch what you eat, get enough sleep, drink enough water, exercise in moderation, and, though at age 110 you might not win tomorrows Boston Marathon, maybe you could break four hours.

Life and life more abundantly is what Jesus says he came that we might have (John 10:10). He healed the sick, raised the dead, and produced food and drink from scraps and strong faith. For three years he performed biomedical miracles prolifically. In his personal war against death, his coup de grace was the event that Western and Eastern Christians alike (their lunar calendars agree this year) commemorate for the next several weeks beginning today.

Its 11:30 p.m. on the East Coast. For commercial purposes, Easter is done for the year, but 24 hours cannot contain the celebration in the Church. The endlessly astonishing news that a dead man came back to life and still lives fills up the liturgical calendar all this week and radiates with gradually diminishing intensity to Ascension Thursday, when the wonderment booms again, like a supernova; Western Christians formally observe Easter even longer, through Pentecost.

Two thousand years after the fact, the planets human population has grown 30-fold, and 30 percent of it are at least nominally followers of the man who removed from death its finality and sting. Many follow him seriously, as present-day Christian martyrs worldwide attest. Born 2,000 years ago and killed in his 30s, he rose from his tomb a few days later and for a few weeks walked the dusty roads of Judea and Galilee, baffling his friends and neighbors. He departed the planet bodily. To those who watched, he looked like he ascended into the sky. He lives today, flesh and blood, soul and spirit, somewhere in this universe. He promised to return. Hes the first fruits: Those who have believed in him but now sleep will rise too. On Gods schedule, not necessarily theirs, their bodies will be reconstituted and reunited with their souls, mysteriously; they could hardly be reunited otherwise.

Physical immortality: Why not? Its possible: We know someone who has it, though we still dont understand how it works, either the biology or the psychology or the politics. Unlike some religious leaders, Jesus prescribed no health regimen or political philosophy, unless you consider render to Caesar what is Caesars to be other than a statement that we have bigger fish to fry. Transhumanists aspire to achieve the Christian promise by their wits and labor through the sweat of their brow, as it were as opposed to receiving it as a gift. Count on them to make a hash of it. See Mary Shelley.

The gospel has many facets. Apologists who lead with the good news about salvation and redemption give the answer to a question few people ask. The heart of the heart of the faith has always been the resurrection. If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain, and so is your faith (1 Cor. 15:14). Christians, take your cue from the transhumanists. Their answers are wrong, but their question is right. They busy themselves trying to create a knockoff of the genuine article. Give thanks for the genuine article, and never tire of directing your neighbors to it. Remind them that its theirs for the asking.

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Trees, science and the goodness of green space – Environmental Health News

Posted: April 13, 2017 at 11:19 pm

In urban parks and forests, scientists dig to unearth answers to an age-old questionwhy are people healthier (and happier) when surrounded by nature?

April 12, 2017

By Lindsey Konkel Environmental Health News

The connection between trees, human health and well-being dates back millennia. The ancient Celts worshipped in sacred groves, believing the trees would protect them from physical and spiritual harm. In Hebrew and Christian scriptures a tree of life in the Garden of Eden imparted immortality. Potted conifers helped to cleanse the air inside tuberculosis sanatoriums of nineteenth century Europe.

In recent years, scientists studying urban forests have turned up links between exposure to green space and health benefits, including fewer deaths from heart disease and respiratory diseases, fewer hospitalizations, better infant birth weights and even less crime.

Weve had this intuitive understanding that nature is good for us. Now were backing it up on an empirical level, said Geoffrey Donovan, a resource economist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Oregon.

Donovan and others are digging into the underlying science to understand the relationship between nature and health, a step they say will help guide the design of healthier cities and suburbs.

Weve had this intuitive understanding that nature is good for us. Now were backing it up on an empirical level.-Geoffrey Donovan, US Forest ServiceEarly indications of health benefits

In 1984, University of Delaware researcher Roger Ulrich made the observation that gall bladder surgery patients stayed in the hospital for less time and took fewer painkillers when they could see trees out their hospital window than when their window faced a brick wall.

Ulrichs study was smalljust 46 patientsand raised more questions than it answered. Yet it suggested for the first time scientifically that our perception of nature could potentially influence health outcomes.

That same year, American clinical psychologist Craig Brod coined the term technostress to describe the increasingly artificial elements of our built environment that appeared to be raising stress levels. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system. Some experts hypothesized that this kind of constant stressexacerbated by the urban environmentwas making people sick.

In Japan, Yoshifumi Miyazaki wondered whether the antidote could be as simple as a long walk in the woods. Miyazaki, a physiological anthropologist at Chiba University, is widely regarded in Japan as the father of forest therapya preventive medicine approach aimed at preventing disease by exposing people to nature.

Over the last three decades, Miyazaki has led more than 60 studies investigating the physiological effects of being in a forested environment. His team has taken measurements including blood pressure readings and changes in heart rate. Theyve tested saliva samples for cortisol, a hormonal marker of stress. Overwhelmingly, theyve found that when people spend time in a forest, their bodies act less stressed out.

Miyazaki hypothesizes that exposure to natural stimulithe sound of a woodpecker drumming away on a tree trunk or the smell of damp pine needles, for instancepromotes physiological relaxation. Hes shown it may help to lower blood pressure, stress hormone levels, sympathetic nervous system activity (think fight-or-flight response) and relieve depression and anxiety.

But how much time in the forest is enough? A group of Stanford researchers in 2015 showed that just a 50-minute walk in a park or forest could decrease anxiety and rumination (a psychology term that basically means dwelling on the negative thoughts caused by upsetting situations) compared to a 50-minute walk through an urban environment.

A new environmental exposuregreenness

What do those nature exposures mean when they add up over a lifetime?

Related: Respect the elderly: Saving cities' oldest treesPeter James, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard University, studies how environmental exposures, such as air pollution, might be related to health outcomes. When we thought about what aspects of neighborhood structure could influence health, one unmeasured variable that kept coming up was nature or greenness, James said.

Previous research suggested that neighborhood vegetation might reduce obesity, promote physical activity, and improve mental health and heart health. Yet most of these studies looked only at one point in timemaking it tricky to tease out whether living on a green block actually made people healthier or whether healthier people just chose to live in greener neighborhoods.

Adding to the problem, urban dwellers often pay a premium for access to green space. If wealthier people are more likely to live in greener areas and wealthier people also are more likely to have better health outcomes, maybe its their wealthand not exposure to naturethats making them healthier.

James and his colleagues at Harvard set out to examine the association between greenness and mortality in a large, ongoing study of nurses living in mostly urban areas around the country. In gathering data repeatedly on the nurses over time (and the terminal nature of the chosen endpointdeath) it was more likely that any association between greenness and mortality was actually due to the greenness and not some other factor.

And the fact that all study participants shared the same occupationnursingmade it less likely that socioeconomics would confound their results.

In a 2016 study, the researchers reported that nurses with high levels of greenness surrounding their homes over the course of the eight-year study were about 12 percent less likely to die during that period than nurses living in the least green areas. The associations were strongest for respiratory, cancer, and kidney disease-related deaths.

They found that the association between greenness and mortality appeared to be explained by women living in greener neighborhoods experiencing less depression, higher levels of social engagement, more physical activity and lower exposures to air pollutants than their peers living in less green neighborhoods.

A natural experiment

If nature can make us feel better in the general sense, then we should be able to see measurable differences in human health, said Donovan, who studies the social and health benefits provided by urban trees.

Under normal circumstances, he said, studying how large-scale changes in foliage over time impact the health of communities would take ages. It could take a generation or more before newly planted trees form a mature urban tree canopy.

Yet nature set up the experimental conditions Donovan needed to study the relationship between trees and health outcomes. The loss of more than 100 million ash trees over the last decade and a half has drastically changed the landscape in many U.S. citiesmaking them a perfect laboratory to study the relationship between tree cover and health.

Exposure to vegetation can be very restorative, but design does matter.-William Sullivan, University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignThe culprit? A shiny green beetle named the emerald ash borer. The ash borer, native to Asia, first turned up in Detroit in 2002. Its been spreading across the Northeastern U.S. since, leaving behind a trail of dead ash trees.

Using the presence of the ash borer as an indicator for tree loss, Donovan and his colleagues showed an increase in deaths associated with the presence of the beetle. In counties across a 15-state area, Donovan attributed about 15,000 additional heart disease-related deaths and about 6,000 respiratory disease-related deaths to a loss of trees caused by the emerald ash borer. They published their results in 2013.

The magnitude of the effect was really eye-opening, Donovan said.

New tools to quantify effects

Studies such as Donavans natural experiment with the emerald ash borer give experts confidence that nature really is affecting healththat researchers havent just stumbled upon a giant set of coincidences.

Yet more science is needed to tell us the conditions under which nature will and will not improve health, and how to use nature to improve health, said Ming Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Exposure to vegetation can be very restorative, but design does matter, said William Sullivan, a landscape architect also at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hacking your way through an overgrown lot, for instance, may not have the same calming or restorative effect as a casual stroll through a grove of trees or an urban park.

As landscape architects move toward creating more ecologically healthy landscapes that foster ecosystem servicesfor instance flood mitigation or temperature regulationits important to understand the human health implications too, Sullivan said. For instance, are you creating a reservoir for mosquitoes, ticks or other insects that could be carrying disease?

We need information on how exposure to different forms of green space impact health, how much exposure people need, and what kind of designsarrangements of plants, types of plantsare healthy for the environment and for people, he said.

Planting trees can literally save the lives of people.-Satoshi Hirabayashi, The Davey Tree Expert Company, US Forest ServiceResearchers now are developing tools that may soon answer some of these questions. Satoshi Hirabayashi, an environmental engineer at The Davey Tree Expert Company and the U.S. Forest Service in Syracuse, New York, studies how much air pollution is removed by different types of trees and then estimates how those reductions in air pollution benefit human health. Previous studies suggest as many as 135,000 U.S. deaths annually can be attributed to ground level ozone and fine particulate matter. Trees absorb some of those airborne particles by trapping them on their leaves and bark while gaseous pollutants are taken in through the leaf stomata.

Hirabayashi and colleagues are developing a national database that will allow users to quantify the air quality and related human health benefits associated with any forested area anywhere in the U.S. We will be able to show people what kind of air pollution removal is going on in their own backyard, he said.

So far, theyve shown that tree type matters and that urban trees give more bang for the buck when it comes to health benefits. Evergreens do a better job of removing pollutants year-round than deciduous trees, which drop their leaves in the fall, Hirabayashi found. And while rural areas experience more total air pollution removal from trees than urban areas (due to more tree cover in rural areas), the effects of that air pollution removal on human health appear greatest in urban areas where the most people are concentrated.

Urban forest managers and city planners around the country have begun using this technology to better understand the health savings associated with city trees on both a community and backyard level using tools such as i-Tree Eco and i-Tree Design, according to Hirabayashi. These programs can estimate air quality and associated human health benefits anywhere in the U.S.

Planting trees can literally save the lives of people, he said.

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author's name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN's version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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