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Brainstorm Health: Living Forever, Dermira FDA Approval, The Science of Coffee

July 2, 2018, 8:39 PM UTC

Happy Monday, readers—This is Sy.

New research has revived one of the longest standing, and biologically fundamental, debates in the life sciences: Is there a set limit to how long humans can live?

The study, published in the journal Science, suggests that maybe there isn’t. (It should be noted that this finding contradicts other, similar research by biologists and demographers, as Nature notes.)

Researchers examined a population of nearly 4,000 Italians who were 105 years or older. What they found was that mortality risk essentially plateaus after a certain point for these “super-elderly” individuals. The risk of death increases gradually the older that someone gets, especially as they reach their 80s and 90s. But, say Sapienza University’s Elisabetta Barbi and University of Roma Tre’s Francesco Lagona, after reaching the ripe old age of 105, the odds of dying within the following year essentially drop down to 50% and stay level.

The researchers emphasized the quality of their dataset, asserting that their “estimates are free from artifacts of aggregation that limited earlier studies and provide the best evidence to date for the existence of extreme-age mortality plateaus in humans.” If a mortality plateau really does occur at higher ages, that theoretically means death doesn’t have to be an inevitability.

Not all scientists have reached that conclusion. For instance, a team from New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine analyzed the ages of the world’s oldest people and pegged the maximum length of human longevity at somewhere between 115 and 125 years. (For the curious: The oldest person ever in recorded history was a French lady named Jeanne Calment, who died at 122 years of age in 1997.)

“[B]y analyzing global demographic data, we show that improvements in survival with age tend to decline after age 100, and that the age at death of the world’s oldest person has not increased since the 1990s. Our results strongly suggest that the maximum lifespan of humans is fixed and subject to natural constraints,” wrote the Albert Einstein researchers in their 2016 report.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Nomad takes on doctor and nurse shortages. Nomad Health, a digital health company that allows doctors and nurses to do gig work and staff up hospitals in needs of bodies, is expanding its services in the Midwest (and particularly in rural areas) in an effort to tackle physician and nursing shortages and combat the opioid overdose epidemic. "We are especially excited to introduce Nomad into the Midwest given how severe the clinician shortages are in the region," said Nomad CEO Dr. Alexi Nazem in a statement. Nomad pulled in $12 million in a Series B funding round at the beginning of the year.


FDA approves Dermira's excessive sweating wipe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a treatment for primary axillary hyperhidrosis, a condition that afflicts about 10 million Americans and causes excess armpit sweating. Qbrexza, manufactured by Dermira, is a topical wipe that patients can apply to their armpits discreetly; it works by blocking certain receptors that activate sweat glands and may be used once a day. Dermira's stock, however, may not wind up with much of a boost from the approval. It shot up temporarily on Friday before dropping, and shares are down nearly 70% on the year. (CNBC)


Even more scientific support for the magic of coffee. There have been countless studies promoting the health benefits of coffee—but what about decaf? Well, some good news for those coffee drinkers who prefer their fix without the caffeine: Even decaf drinkers may be more likely to live longer than those who don't drink coffee at all (inevitable caveat: correlation isn't the same thing as causation). Previous research has suggested that regular coffee consumption may be associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and the new study suggests that it's not the caffeine in coffee that makes it a power drink (from a health perspective). (NPR)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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