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A new clinical trial hopes to unravel the genetic and molecular basis for delirium, a common complication afflicting elderly patients after major surgery. Delirium, which can prolong the recovery of elderly surgical patients, is a mental state characterized by impaired cognitive function, fluctuating levels of consciousness, disturbed sleep-wake cycles and agitation. Although difficult to measure, the incidence of delirium has been reported to be as high as 60 percent, with the elderly at the highest risk, the researchers said.
In their ongoing research on turning adult stem cells isolated from fat into cartilage, researchers have demonstrated that the level of oxygen present during the transformation process is a key switch in stimulating the stem cells to change. Using a biochemical cocktail of steroids and growth factors, the researchers have "retrained" specific adult stem cells that would normally form the structure of fat into another type of cell known as a chondrocyte, or cartilage cell. During this process, if the cells were grown in the presence of "room air," which is about 20 percent oxygen, the stem cells tended to proliferate; however, if the level of oxygen was reduced to 5 percent, the stem cells transformed into chondrocytes.