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New eating plan could improve sleep and memory in Alzheimer’s patients

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Time-restricted feeding could help reverse the disruption to the body’s internal biological clock suffered by many Alzheimer’s disease patients.

A new study from researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine has shown in mice that it’s possible to correct the circadian disruptions seen in Alzheimer’s disease with this type of intermittent fasting, which focuses on limiting the daily eating window without restricting the amount of food consumed.

The disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects around 55 million people worldwide.

Nearly 80% of those with the brain disorder experience these issues, including difficulty sleeping and worsening cognitive function at night. However, there are no existing treatments for Alzheimer’s that target this aspect of the disease.

But, in the study published in Cell Metabolism, mice that were fed on a time-restricted schedule showed improvements in memory and reduced accumulation of amyloid proteins in the brain.

The authors say the findings will likely result in a human clinical trial.

Senior study author Dr Paula Desplats, a professor in the Department of Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said: “For many years, we assumed that the circadian disruptions seen in people with Alzheimer’s are a result of neurodegeneration, but we’re now learning it may be the other way around – circadian disruption may be one of the main drivers of Alzheimer’s pathology.

“This makes circadian disruptions a promising target for new Alzheimer’s treatments, and our findings provide the proof-of-concept for an easy and accessible way to correct these disruptions.”

Alzheimer’s disease – which is most common in the over 65s – is considered by many to be one of the biggest forthcoming global health challenges. It affects more than six million Americans, alone. Around 10 million have it in Europe, with the number of patients projected to rise to 14 million by 2030.

Dr Paula Desplats

People with Alzheimer’s experience a variety of disruptions to their circadian rhythms, including changes to their sleep/wake cycle, increased cognitive impairment and confusion in the evenings, and difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Dr Desplats explained: “Circadian disruptions in Alzheimer’s are the leading cause of nursing home placement. Anything we can do to help patients restore their circadian rhythm will make a huge difference in how we manage Alzheimer’s in the clinic and how caregivers help patients manage the disease at home.”

Boosting the circadian clock is an emerging approach to improving health outcomes, and one way to accomplish this is by controlling the daily cycle of feeding and fasting.

The researchers tested this strategy in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease, feeding the rodents on a time-restricted schedule where they were only allowed to eat within a six-hour window each day. For humans, this would translate to about 14 hours of fasting each day.

Compared to control mice who were provided food at all hours, those fed on the time-restricted schedule had better memory, were less hyperactive at night, followed a more regular sleep schedule and experienced fewer disruptions whilst snoozing.

The test mice also performed better on cognitive assessments than the control group, demonstrating that the time-restricted feeding schedule was able to help mitigate the behavioural symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also observed improvements in the mice on a molecular level. In mice fed on a restricted schedule, the researchers found that multiple genes associated with Alzheimer’s and neuroinflammation were expressed differently.

They also discovered that the feeding schedule helped reduce the amount of amyloid protein that accumulated in the brain. Amyloid deposits are one of the most well-known features of Alzheimer’s disease.

Because the time-restricted feeding schedule was able to substantially change the course of Alzheimer’s in the mice, the researchers are optimistic that the findings could be easily translatable to the clinic, especially since the new treatment approach relies on a lifestyle change rather than a drug.

Dr Desplats said: “Time-restricted feeding is a strategy that people can easily and immediately integrate into their lives. If we can reproduce our results in humans, this approach could be a simple way to dramatically improve the lives of people living with Alzheimer’s and those who care for them.”

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Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors

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New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing

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A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million

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Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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