May 17, 2020

[VIDEO] Novartis Studies Muscle Atrophy by Sending Mice into Space

Muscle Atrophy
3 min
The mice involved in this experiment lack the protein “MuRF” – which stands for Muscle Ring Finger-1.
Novartis’ BioMedical Research team is taking the phrase “out of this world” to another level. In their latest endeavor to understand the degradati...

Novartis’ BioMedical Research team is taking the phrase “out of this world” to another level. In their latest endeavor to understand the degradation of muscles, they have teamed up with NASA to send mice into space to study muscle atrophy.  

Sent to the International Space Station on September 20, the mice will be living in microgravity during their mission, allowing scientists to learn more about muscle development and atrophy.

“If I had the opportunity to go into space, I would. But since I can’t, I will go vicariously through these mice,” said Sam Cadena, Investigator II at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.

Cadena is part of the musculoskeletal group at Novartis, with its interest being in gene muscle loss, preserving muscle mass and maintaining function. Muscle loss being a primary concern for astronauts entering space, Cadena and his team were approached by CASIS, the Center for Advancement of Science in Space, and were asked if they wanted to be a part of the mission.

“Once the muscles of the astronauts are subjected to the microgravity in space, the muscles adapt to this new environment and they begin to atrophy and they get smaller,” said Cadena.

Although astronauts exercise for at least two hours a day while they are in space, this does not compensate for the load loss they experience without gravity, writes Catherine Hiller on Novartis’ site.

A Special Breed

The mice involved in this experiment are of no ordinary kind, they lack the protein “MuRF” – which stands for Muscle Ring Finger-1.

“What MuRF does is it labels proteins in the muscle for degradation and so these mice are highly resistant to muscle atrophy,” said Cadena. “The idea is to understand atrophy in any context that we can, and that includes space flight.”

Divided into two groups, one group of mice, dubbed “mousetronauts,” will be sent into space and another group will remain at the Kennedy Space Center to serve as the control group. Both groups will also be joined by normal mice to compare the differences in muscle atrophy.

“In the MuRF knockout mice, we expect to see less atrophy,” hypothesized Cadena.

Two Types of Testing

The extent of muscle atrophy is measured by muscle weights, according to Cadena. If the muscle weighed is lighter than its original weight, then it has atrophied.

“Another way to get a closer look is to look at the cellular level, and so this means taking cross sections of the muscle and looking at the individual cells to look at the size of the fibers – have they grown, have they shrunk?” noted Cadena.

Returning the Results Home

Muscle atrophy is more gradual on earth, but every human experiences muscle loss as they get older.

“I think where it’s most relevant is probably with aging,” said Cadena in regards to the study outcomes. “As people age they tend to get weaker, they tend to get frailer, some more than others and so it’s important because people want to maintain their independence as long as possible.”

“I think whether it’s in the context of aging or whether it’s in the context of chronic disease, muscle maintenance is important in keeping that independence and that functionality,” added Cadena.

Cadena hopes that this study will increase their understanding of the MuRF-1 protein and perhaps even accelerate the pace of muscle atrophy drug discovery in the field.

A second “mice in space” mission has been announced by Novartis to take place February 2015. 

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May 13, 2021

Birdie aims to reinvent elderly care with tech

3 min
We take a look at homecare software startup Birdie, who are aiming to transform elderly care in the UK

British startup Birdie has announced it has raised £8.2 million to invest in innovation and scale up the business. 

The company's announcement is timely as it follows the criticism of the UK government over their lack of a plan for social care, despite acknowledging the sector is in crisis - around a quarter of the UK's home care providers are on the brink of bankruptcy due to a lack of funds and staffing. 

Birdie was born with a mission to  "radically improve the lives of millions of older adults", by using app-based solutions, IoT and machine learning to put preventative care at the forefront.  The company was founded by Max Parmentier,  after experiencing his own frustrations with the care system - his grandfather struggled with the impact of life in a care home, but lacked any other option. 

In 2017 Parmentier partnered with venture builder Kamet Ventures to  set up Birdie, in a bid to fix this problem. Since then, Birdie has partnered with almost 500 providers across the UK, and supports more than 20,000 older people every week. In the past 12 months alone the number of people Birdie supports has got six times greater. 

Birdie’s solution is an app to help care providers deliver more coordinated, personalised and preventative care, by giving them access to digital assessments, medication scheduling and planning tools. By using digital tools to take care of admin, staff have more time to spend with their care recipients. 

The new investment will be used to fund Birdie’s next phase of growth in the UK, as the company scales to meet the rapidly growing demand of the aging population. The company will also invest in product innovation, creating new features to address customer requests.

In addition, Birdie is piloting new care models, including partnering with the NHS to identify COVID-19 symptoms, building predictive pharmacy models with AI, and helping health authorities to detect early warning signs of patients’ health risks.

Internally, Birdie is committed to having a progressive company ethos. All salaries are transparent, and staff work asynchronously to maximise flexibility and equity. Staff members also volunteer in their local community during office hours, and the company offsets all its emissions.

These efforts have led to numerous awards, including having the best SME culture in the UK, an Honorable Mention in the Health category of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards, and innovation in care at the LangBuisson awards. 

“We believe the future of care for older people should be helping them to live at home for as long as possible through the delivery of personalised and preventative care" Parmentier said. 

"Birdie is already the partner of choice for caregivers up and down the UK, and this new funding will help us rapidly increase the number we partner with and what we can offer them - meaning more people benefiting from more affordable, quality care. We’re proud of our mission and the values we embody to pursue it.” 

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