There is a running joke that I am not allowed to name things, because I am truly terrible at it. Yet somehow, in the way that only the Universe could possibly understand (and in the only way that a Universe joke can be truly and fully appreciated), I frequently end up naming things.
I love the etymology of words and ‘cahoot’ is fascinating. It's surprisingly contentious derivation is often cited as coming from the French (cahute), used in Scots English and exported to America via Scottish immigrants. Regardless of origins, to be ‘in cahoots’ is to be in partnership as companions or confederates, usually on equal terms, sometimes with the aim of mischief…
What better way to start 2021 than for One Healthtech Bristol to run our first event ‘in cahoots’ with the OHT community in order to bring a healthcare technology to life. And so Virtual Article Cahoot was born! Without experts, but on equal terms, welcoming contributions from all attending in order to explain, extract and evaluate a healthtech topic… and also have a little fun along the way.
On Wednesday 27th January, OHT Bristol met (virtually) to discuss epigenetics. Prompted by the Nature article titled “Reprogramming to recover youthful epigenetic information and restore vision” and its coverage in the Independent, a podcast and (my favourite) the video “Rewinding the biological clock” the topic centred on the recent breakthroughs made by science teams in America, including researchers at Harvard Medical School, in reprogramming cells to be younger.
After some introductions, Bea Deere and Laura Sobola from OHT Bristol, talked us through the research. Cellular aging affects us all, and our epigenome is impacted throughout our lives by environmental and lifestyle factors impacting our biological age, but the question posed was ‘could this be reversed’? In 2012, Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel prize for showing that an adult cell could be changed into a stem cell in a dish. As a blank cell template, a stem cell is the youngest a cell can be. However, these cells lose their identity, and so would result in tumours in humans if re-introduced. Instead the researchers wanted to make cells younger, but not too young.
By taking mice, blind with age, and introducing optic nerve cells that had been treated with three Yamanaka factors, the teams were able to demonstrate that the sight in these animals could be restored. Nerve cells not only grew back, they grew back younger.
As a group of non-experts, we were all fascinated by the prospect of this topic. Many cited personal experiences where quality of life of relatives and loved ones could have been dramatically improved were such technologies widely (and safely) available. In many instances, we identified the economic benefits of alleviating the wider health and social burden of age. We explored the implications for recovery from injury and illness and the notion of ‘healthy years’ addressing the average 20% of life that may be spent in ill health, along with the prospect of extended life span. However, it was not long before the ethical and moral implications became the primary focus of our discussions. As a community promoting diversity and inclusion, there are many considerations for the application of such technology. A lively discussion ensued with contributions full of insight from everyone in attendance.
It was fantastic to come together in our first event of the year and find a complex topic not only accessible, but interesting, thought-provoking and ultimately a memorable reminder of the roles we all play in ensuring that healthtech is for all.
A big thank you to all who came and contributed to the discussion in order to make the event such a success and we look forward to being ‘in cahoots’ with you again soon. Look out for another Virtual Article Cahoot* heading your way later this year!
*let’s hope someone other than me names the next one….
Much OHT love,
Fi Dawson (OHT Bristol)