Scientists discover bees can 'turn back time,' reverse brain aging

July 2, 2012

Scientists at Arizona State University have discovered that older honey bees effectively reverse brain aging when they take on nest responsibilities typically handled by much younger bees. While current research on human age-related dementia focuses on potential new drug treatments, researchers say these findings suggest that social interventions may be used to slow or treat age-related dementia.

In a study published in the scientific journal Experimental Gerontology, a team of scientists from ASU and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, led by Gro Amdam, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, presented findings that show that tricking older, foraging bees into doing social tasks inside the nest causes changes in the molecular structure of their brains. Young bees in a hive taking care of larvae. Download Full Image

“We knew from previous research that when bees stay in the nest and take care of larvae – the bee babies – they remain mentally competent for as long as we observe them,” said Amdam. “However, after a period of nursing, bees fly out gathering food and begin aging very quickly. After just two weeks, foraging bees have worn wings, hairless bodies, and more importantly, lose brain function – basically measured as the ability to learn new things. We wanted to find out if there was plasticity in this aging pattern so we asked the question, ‘What would happen if we asked the foraging bees to take care of larval babies again?”

During experiments, scientists removed all of the younger nurse bees from the nest – leaving only the queen and babies. When the older, foraging bees returned to the nest, activity diminished for several days. Then, some of the old bees returned to searching for food, while others cared for the nest and larvae.  Researchers discovered that after 10 days, about 50 percent of the older bees caring for the nest and larvae had significantly improved their ability to learn new things.

Amdam’s international team not only saw a recovery in the bees’ ability to learn, they discovered a change in proteins in the bees’ brains. When comparing the brains of the bees that improved relative to those that did not, two proteins noticeably changed. They found Prx6, a protein also found in humans that can help protect against dementia – including diseases such as Alzheimer’s – and they discovered a second and documented “chaperone” protein that protects other proteins from being damaged when brain or other tissues are exposed to cell-level stress.

In general, researchers are interested in creating a drug that could help people maintain brain function, yet they may be facing up to 30 years of basic research and trials.

“Maybe social interventions – changing how you deal with your surroundings – is something we can do today to help our brains stay younger,” said Amdam. “Since the proteins being researched in people are the same proteins bees have, these proteins may be able to spontaneously respond to specific social experiences.”

Amdam suggests further studies are needed on mammals such as rats in order investigate whether the same molecular changes that the bees experience might be socially inducible in people.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU, Phoenix College plan Medical Laboratory Science Program expansion

July 3, 2012

ASU and Phoenix College’s Medical Laboratory Science (MLS) Partnership Program plans to expand as a result of a decision by the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board to approve the purchase and modernization of a building valued at $2.9 million. The proposed property purchase for Phoenix College will enable the expansion of and improvements in lab facilities of Allied Health and Dental Programs of which MLS is a part.

Today more than 70 percent of medical decisions made by physicians are based on laboratory findings and the medical laboratory professionals collecting the information needed to make these decisions play a critical role in health care, according to Julie Stiak, Phoenix College program director for the MLS Program. Despite the need for lab services, the U.S. currently faces a health care professional shortage in this area as a result of an aging work force and the recent closure of laboratory science programs according to the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science. Julie Stiak, PC Program Director for the MLS Program Download Full Image

The planned growth provides the partners with the opportunity to address the shortage with plans for a state-of-the-art simulation lab and virtual training facility which will strengthen the program's hybrid delivery model and help address the shortage of educational opportunities in a growing field.

“Currently students in rotations as interns are required to spend six months in a clinical practice setting. Building a simulation lab and virtual training facility will reduce hours students need to spend in the clinic and allow for increased enrollment,” according to Jeff Wolz, ASU program director. “It is often difficult to place students in a clinical setting because hospitals lack resources to train students and the expansion will address this bottleneck.” added Stiak.

The collaborative ASU/PC program is unique in using innovative learning technologies in a hybrid delivery model. Students earn an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Lab Science from Phoenix College with the option of continuing on to complete an ASU degree, the Bachelor of Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Science, with 90 credits from Phoenix College and 30 credits from ASU. Both of these degrees are earned on the Phoenix College campus through hybrid delivery and video conferencing. The program directors point out that at this time there are no comparable MLS degree offerings in the country and the partnership includes shared faculty and equipment, making it a cost effective option for students seeking high quality associate and bachelor degrees.

The expansion, expected to be completed by 2014, will allow the program to meet the growing number of applicants.  “Applicants generally gravitate to the MLS program because they have an interest  in working in a medical field and want to play an integral role in patient care, but prefer to work behind the scenes,” said Wolz. Some students find the field by default, such as biology students looking for a career where they can apply knowledge, according to Stiak.

The Bachelor of Applied Science in Medical Laboratory Science program in ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion has existed for two years and recently graduated the first cohort of 18 students in spring 2012. The average salary for a medical lab scientist is $54,400, according to the American Society of Clinical Pathology. The Labor Department projects faster than average job growth; with the number of clinical lab workers increasing at 16 percent between 2008 and 2018, adding 25,000 jobs.

The Medical Lab Science program was recently recognized as the 2012 Innovation of the Year for the Maricopa County Community College District.

Media Contact:
Lisa Sargent,
(602) 496-0876