Alice recently finished an MSc in Science, Media and Communication and now works as a communications officer at the Medical Research Council. She did her BSc in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Bath, which included a placement year at Pfizer. Alongside being an editor, she still likes to write and has now started her own column.
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It is no longer enough to simply reach old age, to prolong our lifespan – the new challenge is to stay healthy as we age, to prolong our so-called ‘healthspan’.
Our risk of developing diseases of the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, becomes far greater as we age. Yet losing your neurons and memory is not, as once thought, a natural and inevitable part of ageing. And the activity of a transcription factor, REST, in certain brain areas may hold the key to preventing it.
A few weeks ago, I helped out at a stall at Oxford Science Fair. It was a gloriously sunny day, and everyone was in a good mood. Our stall was based around research on neurodegeneration, particularly Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and dementia. Most of the day was spent showing kids how to make neurons out of pipe-cleaners and brain areas out of plasticine, but we had some questions from adults too.
One lady told me that her mother, aged only 50, had an early-onset form of dementia, and no longer recognised her when she went to visit. She would never recognise the two young boys that stood beside her as her own grandchildren, never remember their first words, their first smile, their first days at school. The lady turned to me and asked: Why had this happened? What did her mother do to deserve such a fate? I saw the pain in her eyes, and wished I had an answer to give.
Now, it seems, I do. Lu et al. have published research in Nature  that demonstrates how the repressor element 1-silencing transcription factor (REST), also known as neuron-restrictive silencer factor (NRSF), acts to protect neurons in the prefronal cortex (PFC) and hippocampus, two major brain areas affected by Alzheimer's disease.
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Biofuels have had a (justifiably) bad reputation for causing the destruction of masses of rainforest. But genetic engineering of new microorganisms may be able to make use of agricultural waste.
Alice takes a peek through the looking glass to a world of telescoping limbs and treatment with mirrors.
Understanding neurobiology may now be as easy as flicking a switch...
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