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Older people in good shape have fitter brains

Seventy- to eighty-year-olds who train for better fitness are better at solving cognitive tasks and are less likely to suffer cognitive impairment.

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“Our findings suggest that being fit can protect against mild cognitive impairment in older people,” says Ekaterina Zotcheva.

Just before Christmas, Zotcheva defended her doctoral dissertation on exercise and brain health at the  Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU. The day before the defence, the last study for her doctoral degree was published in the highly regarded Sports Medicine journal.

The article is just one of three recent research articles from NTNU that show how important it is for the brain to stay in good physical shape as you get older. Common to all three articles is that they are based on data from the world’s largest training study for older adults, the Generation 100 study from the Cardiac Exercise Research Group.

Dementia risk

“The Generation 100 study has been going on for almost ten years now. After the study participants had been exercising for five years, we tested the cognitive function of almost 1000 of them.”

“The men and women who had maintained or increased their physical fitness during the study had better brain health than those whose fitness had declined over the five years,” says Zotcheva.

The cognitive test that the participants took is the same one that is often used to check whether people are at risk of developing dementia.

The test assesses short-term memory, execution function and the ability to orient oneself in time and space. Scoring below a certain number indicates a risk of mild cognitive impairment.

“We know that mild cognitive impairment can lead to dementia for some individuals. The greater the increase in a participant’s fitness level during the five years of the study, the lower their probability was of developing mild cognitive impairment,” says Zotcheva.

Better at problem solving

Good conditioning appears to be an important prerequisite for good brain function in the elderly in the other two research articles as well. In both of these studies, the researchers tested the brain health of more than 100 of the participants in the Generation 100 study at start-up and after one, three and five years of training.

“Participants who were in good shape, both when the study started and later in the study, had a faster reaction time. The ones who improved their fitness level gained a somewhat better working memory,” says NTNU professor Asta Håberg.

The ability to solve cognitive problems was tested using the web-based Memoro platform, which Håberg developed in collaboration with neuropsychologist Tor Ivar Hansen.

Less brain atrophy

Håberg has been involved in the work with all three recent research articles. In the third study, the researchers performed MRI scans of the participants’ brains to see how the brain volume and thickness of the cerebral cortex changed throughout the study. Here, too, the most energetic participants came out best.

“Participants who were in good shape when the study started had a thicker cerebral cortex after one, three and five years, as compared with those who had lower maximum oxygen uptake. But we didn’t find any effect from increasing fitness during the study,” says Håberg.

The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain and is important for several important brain functions, such as attention, ability to make choices, working memory, abstract thinking and memory. This part of the brain becomes thinner with age, and thinning of the cerebral cortex in different areas is linked to different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.

Fitness more important than type of exercise

All 70- to 77-year-olds in Trondheim were invited to the Generation 100 study in 2012. Those who agreed to participate were randomly assigned to five years of exercise of various kinds. One group would primarily do high intensity intervals, a second group would mainly go for walks or do other exercise with moderate intensity, and the last group would try to follow the activity recommendations of the health authorities to be physically active for at least 150 minutes each week.

The first two groups were followed up most closely by the researchers, and were offered two organized training sessions each week. The NTNU researchers looked beyond the connection between fitness and brain health and also investigated whether the type of training follow-up that participants received made a difference.

“Our results show that organized training follow-up may have given older men, but not older women, better cognitive function and lowered the probability of mild cognitive impairments. But all in all, it seems that the most important thing is that you actually train in a way that increases your fitness, regardless of whether you get organized help to be physically active or not,” says Zotcheva.

Less brain atrophy than expected

“In the groups that received follow-up with high-intensity training and training with moderate intensity, respectively, we found somewhat greater loss of brain volume in deep areas of the brain than among those who trained themselves. But we have to emphasize that everyone in the Generation 100 study – regardless of the form of exercise they did – had less brain loss than expected for people in their 70s. The group that trained on their own without organized follow-up had the least shrinkage in the hippocampus and thalamus,” Håberg says.

The training follow-up in Generation 100 was not decisive for the participants’ ability to solve cognitive tasks.

“The groups that were able to attend organized training didn’t perform any better than the group that trained on their own on various tasks, such as remembering where an object is located, memorizing words, processing information quickly or planning,” says Håberg.

Maintained good cognitive function

“It’s still worth noting that the 70-77-year-old participants on average had the same cognitive abilities after five years as at start-up, and that during the study period they even improved on some of the tests. The results show that being in good shape like the Generation 100 participants were, is important for maintaining good brain function,” Håberg says.

The training effect thus seems to be greatest for people who enter retirement age in good shape, and exercise that improves fitness can provide further benefits. So how should the elderly train to get in better shape?

“Several paths can lead to that goal, and the most important factor is to find an activity you enjoy and can continue with over time. In order to maintain or increase your fitness, you should in any case exercise regularly in a way that gets you out of breath and sweaty,” says Zotcheva.

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Pinay pioneers in biomedical and marine research win TOWNS 2022 Award

Two of the 11 winners of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) 2022 are both experts in life sciences from the UPD-CS.

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From the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to the forefront of ocean research, Filipina scientists from the University of the Philippines – Diliman College of Science (UPD-CS) are leading the country and the world in life sciences.

Two of the 11 winners of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) 2022 are both experts in life sciences from the UPD-CS. As Director of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (NIMBB), Dr. Pia D. Bagamasbad has been a key player in the country’s pandemic response, while the Marine Science Institute’s (MSI’s) Dr. Aletta T. Yñiguez has continually been helping to improve the lives of fisherfolk and uplift the country’s fisheries sector through her work in marine ecology.

Spearheading Philippine COVID-19 response

With her years of extensive experience in using RT-PCR for various biomedical applications and assays, Dr. Bagamasbad quickly rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on, she was able to train over a hundred medical technologists from dozens of testing laboratories and hospitals across the country in the use of RT-PCR testing. She is also deeply involved in research towards better understanding the molecular basis of hormone action and hormone-dependent cancers. As a researcher, she continually advocates government support for STEM practitioners, especially women scientists.

“My vision is for our country to get to a point where we have eliminated most, if not all, barriers to scientific progress, and prioritized the development of STEM professionals to give them enough motivation to stay,” Dr. Bagamasbad says.

ARAICoBeH, HABHub help empower fisherfolk

Meanwhile, Dr. Yñiguez is a well-known advocate of sustainable fishing practices and a staunch defender of marine ecology and biodiversity. Her marine research is focused on developing technologies and practices that can help oversee and protect coastal ecosystems, including an early-warning system for harmful algal blooms called HABHub. She and her team also developed a coastal monitoring system, officially called “A Rapid Assessment Instrument for Coastal Benthic Habitats”—but affectionately referred to by its tongue-in-cheek acronym, ARAICoBeH—that provides a low-cost way to take underwater photos of endangered areas such as coral reefs. Ultimately, Dr. Yñiguez is working towards forging close partnerships between coastal communities and public and private entities so that the science can be mainstreamed.

“It’s understandable that we want to have more and better production for a growing population and for economic growth, but the science and technologies to ensure sustainability and thus the health of the ecosystems for marine resources should also go hand-in-hand with these,” Dr. Yñiguez explains.

Inspiring future Filipina scientists

As professors at the UP Diliman College of Science, Drs. Bagamasbad and Yñiguez both continually inspire young students to become the country’s next generation of scientists. Their TOWNS win is a testament to the country and to the world of what Filipinas can aspire to and achieve. 

Since 1974, the TOWNS Awards have been bestowed on outstanding Filipino women between the ages 21 to 50 years old who have contributed invaluably to the country’s economic, social, and cultural development, as well as to national security and unity. The Awards are given every three years by the TOWNS Foundation, a non-profit organization whose members are committed to using their experience, skills, and resources to improve quality of life and to serve as catalysts for national development.

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Eating late increases hunger, decreases calories burned, and changes fat tissue

Eating later had profound effects on hunger and appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, which influence our drive to eat. Specifically, levels of the hormone leptin, which signals satiety, were decreased across the 24 hours in the late eating condition compared to the early eating conditions.

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Obesity afflicts approximately 42 percent of the adult population and contributes to the onset of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. While popular healthy diet mantras advise against midnight snacking, few studies have comprehensively investigated the simultaneous effects of late eating on the three main players in body weight regulation and thus obesity risk: regulation of calorie intake, the number of calories you burn, and molecular changes in fat tissue. A new study by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, found that when we eat significantly impacts our energy expenditure, appetite, and molecular pathways in adipose tissue. Their results are published in Cell Metabolism.

“We wanted to test the mechanisms that may explain why late eating increases obesity risk,” explained senior author Frank A. J. L. Scheer, PhD, Director of the Medical Chronobiology Program in the Brigham’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. “Previous research by us and others had shown that late eating is associated with increased obesity risk, increased body fat, and impaired weight loss success. We wanted to understand why.”

“In this study, we asked, ‘Does the time that we eat matter when everything else is kept consistent?’” said first author Nina Vujović, PhD, a researcher in the Medical Chronobiology Program in the Brigham’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders. “And we found that eating four hours later makes a significant difference for our hunger levels, the way we burn calories after we eat, and the way we store fat.”

Vujović, Scheer and their team studied 16 patients with a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese range. Each participant completed two laboratory protocols: one with a strictly scheduled early meal schedule, and the other with the exact same meals, each scheduled about four hours later in the day. In the last two to three weeks before starting each of the in-laboratory protocols, participants maintained fixed sleep and wake schedules, and in the final three days before entering the laboratory, they strictly followed identical diets and meal schedules at home.

In the lab, participants regularly documented their hunger and appetite, provided frequent small blood samples throughout the day, and had their body temperature and energy expenditure measured. To measure how eating time affected molecular pathways involved in adipogenesis, or how the body stores fat, investigators collected biopsies of adipose tissue from a subset of participants during laboratory testing in both the early and late eating protocols, to enable comparison of gene expression patterns/levels between these two eating conditions.

Results revealed that eating later had profound effects on hunger and appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, which influence our drive to eat. Specifically, levels of the hormone leptin, which signals satiety, were decreased across the 24 hours in the late eating condition compared to the early eating conditions. When participants ate later, they also burned calories at a slower rate and exhibited adipose tissue gene expression towards increased adipogenesis and decreased lipolysis, which promote fat growth. Notably, these findings convey converging physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying the correlation between late eating and increased obesity risk.

Vujović explains that these findings are not only consistent with a large body of research suggesting that eating later may increase one’s likelihood of developing obesity, but they shed new light on how this might occur. By using a randomized crossover study, and tightly controlling for behavioral and environmental factors such as physical activity, posture, sleep, and light exposure, investigators were able to detect changes the different control systems involved in energy balance, a marker of how our bodies use the food we consume.

In future studies, Scheer’s team aims to recruit more women to increase the generalizability of their findings to a broader population. While this study cohort included only five female participants, the study was set up to control for menstrual phase, reducing confounding but making recruiting women more difficult. Going forward, Scheer and Vujović are also interested in better understanding the effects of the relationship between meal time and bedtime on energy balance.

“This study shows the impact of late versus early eating. Here, we isolated these effects by controlling for confounding variables like caloric intake, physical activity, sleep, and light exposure, but in real life, many of these factors may themselves be influenced by meal timing,” said Scheer. “In larger scale studies, where tight control of all these factors is not feasible, we must at least consider how other behavioral and environmental variables alter these biological pathways underlying obesity risk. ”

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DKSH, LEO Pharma partner to deliver products, solutions to people with skin conditions, thrombosis

DKSH Business Unit Healthcare, a leading partner for healthcare companies seeking to grow their business in Asia and beyond, has partnered with LEO Pharma to bring high-quality therapeutic products for dermatology and thrombosis to patients across Asia.

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DKSH Business Unit Healthcare, a leading partner for healthcare companies seeking to grow their business in Asia and beyond, has partnered with LEO Pharma to bring high-quality therapeutic products for dermatology and thrombosis to patients across Asia.

Partnering in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, the two companies seek to solidify brand presence, grow market share, and ultimately improve patient health outcomes in the region. Skin diseases can cause serious physical and social discomfort for millions of patients around the world whereas thrombosis can affect anyone regardless of their age, race, gender, and ethnicity.

DKSH will support LEO Pharma by building dedicated sales and marketing teams on the ground in Asia and managing logistics and product distribution in these markets. The firm’s experienced teams and broad distribution network will ensure LEO Pharma products reach modern trade, traditional trade, hospitals, clinics, and other medical channels, as well as patients in need across the region.

LEO Pharma is a global company dedicated to advancing the standard of care for the benefit of people with skin conditions, their families and society. With decades of research and development to advance the science of dermatology, LEO Pharma now offers a wide range of innovative treatments and therapies for all skin disease severities as well as thrombosis.

Khalid Aouidat, Vice President, responsible for commercial activities in Southeast Asia at LEO Pharma commented: “At LEO Pharma, we are dedicated to changing the standards of care for people with skin diseases by bringing new innovative treatments forward and making them easily accessible. Supporting this ambition, we are delighted to be partnering with DKSH. Their experience and strong regional footprint in Asia, as well as their marketing and sales expertise will help to further strengthen LEO Pharma’s brand and its continued growth.”

Bijay Singh, Head of Business Unit Healthcare at DKSH, said: “We are committed to enriching people’s lives and improving healthcare for all. The partnership with LEO Pharma strengthens our ambition to become the preferred partner for clients to help patients in Asia to have better access to high-quality and innovative products and solutions. While we drive their growth across the region, LEO Pharma can focus on researching and developing products and solutions for people with skin conditions.”

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