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Researchers hope to improve the therapy so it can be safe for human use

Harvard Medical School researchers have found a way to reverse the aging process in mice, and are now looking to do the same for humans. 

Ronald DePinho, leader of the study and a scientist at Harvard Medical School, along with a group of Harvard researchers, have regenerated the bodies of elderly mice turning them into healthy, rejuvenated animals again. 

The aging process is not completely understood at this point, but what researchers do know is that free radicals, which are highly reactive particles created naturally within the body, damage cells which helps cause the aging process. Other known causes are ultraviolet light, smoking and other environmental factors. 

But now, DePinho and his fellow researchers at Harvard Medical School have discovered that an anti-aging therapy called telomere shortening has the potential to eliminate age-related issues like dementia and heart disease by rejuvenating old, worn out organs. 

The body typically contains cells that have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and at the end of each chromosome is a "protective cap" called a telomere. Telomeres are cut shorter every time a cell divides, causing the telomere to eventually stop working, fall into a suspended state called "senescence" or die. This process wears out cells and contributes to the aging process. 

To counter this process, DePinho and his team of researchers genetically manipulated mice, eliminating the enzyme telomerase within them. Telomerase is an enzyme that prevents telomeres from getting shorter. In lab tests, these mice aged prematurely and experienced tell-tale signs of growing older, such as loss of smell, infertility, smaller brain size, and damaged organs such as the intestines. But when given injections to reactivate telomerase, the signs of aging were reversed and tissues that were previously destroyed had been repaired. 

"What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilization of the aging process. We saw a dramatic reversal - and that was unexpected," said DePinho. "This could lead to strategies that enhance the regenerative potential of organs as individuals age and so increase their quality of life. Whether it serves to increase longevity is a question we are not yet in a position to answer."

DePinho noted that these severely aged mice showed signs of considerable restoration after only one month of treatment. Among the several restored organs in the body was the brain, which showed growth of new neurons. 

While this therapy is ideal for mice, it will be challenging to translate this type of treatment to humans because slowing the aging process this way could increase the risk of cancer in humans. Mice have the ability to create telomerase throughout the span of their lives, but telomerase eventually discontinues in humans in order to stop cells from overpopulating and possibly turning into cancerous cells. The constant production of telomerase in mice kept all of the Harvard mice from developing cancer after completing treatment. 

DePinho said that increasing the levels of telomerase in humans could possibly slow the aging process the same way it did in mice, but the heightened risk of cancer makes this therapy much too chancy for people yet. But he also pointed out that the treatment could be safe if it was administered periodically to young people who do not have living cancer cells

"The goal for human tissue 'rejuvenation' would be to remove senescent cells, or else compensate for the deleterious effects they have on tissues and organs," said David Kipling, a researcher at Cardiff University who studies aging. "Although this is a fascinating study, it must be remembered that mice are not little men, particularly with regard to their telomeres, and it remains unclear whether a similar telomerase reactivation in adult humans would lead to the removal of senescent cells."

DePinho and his fellow researchers a Harvard hope to continue working on this therapy in order to make it accessible to humans without causing severe side effects, such as cancer. If an appropriate therapy was created for humans, it could prolong the quality of life for elderly people and eliminate health problems that come with age such as stroke and dementia. 

"They key question is what might this mean for human therapies against age-related diseases?" said Tom Kirkwood, director of the Institute for Aging and Health at Newcastle University. "While there is some evidence that telomere erosion contributes to age-associated human pathology, it is surely not the only, or even dominant cause as it appears to be in mice engineered to lack telomerase. Furthermore, there is the ever-present anxiety that telomerase reactivation is a hallmark of most human cancers."

This study was published in Nature on November 28.

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By wordsworm on 11/29/2010 10:50:41 AM , Rating: 4
I have often thought it futile to even dare to believe that one day science might find its way of reversing the effects of ageing.

I cannot imagine how my perspective on life would change.

The ancient wise have often said that immortality was a kind of curse. Mortality forces us to make hasty decisions. If we are immortal, what is a hundred or so years? No longer would we so much as have to choose one or two paths in life: but rather choose the order in which to execute them.

On the other hand, it would make 'until death do us part' a lot more sinister. "Will you love me forever?" "Let me sleep on it!" "Praying for the end of time so I can end my time with you!" Geeze... no, no thanks.

RE: Immortality
By Gzus666 on 11/29/2010 11:05:21 AM , Rating: 4
It doesn't make you immortal, don't be foolish. All it does is stop the decay of DNA on a split. You can still die from the millions of natural causes out there.

If anything, it will likely be a Logan's Run scenario, you just live better while you are alive.

RE: Immortality
By wordsworm on 11/29/2010 7:56:55 PM , Rating: 3
If by natural causes you mean a car hitting you, then yes I understand it won't save you from that. However, it does say that it would help save you from age related illness. That is a huge effect. Essentially, it means immortality for as long as you're not murdered, bombed, or otherwise made dead.

RE: Immortality
By delphinus100 on 11/29/2010 8:17:16 PM , Rating: 4
I'm all for this, but agree that it's merely one less thing that can kill you...

I don't think an auto accident counts as a 'natural' death, but people die through accidents and mayhem (I've known several) already. That won't change very much. (Well...except accidents involving slow reaction times, or other age-related causes.) Death still remains statistically inevitable,* but not biologically, and so, the timing becomes less certain.

I'll take it.

(* I've often phrased it to friends; "If I have to go, I want it to be something like being on an exploding starship, 400 years from now, and not withering away in a nursing home, 40 years from now...")

RE: Immortality
By wordsworm on 11/30/2010 8:33:16 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, but that 'one thing' is the 'one thing' that gets everyone if nothing else does. Get rid of that 'one thing' and... wow, it's one hell of the right step towards immortality. imo, It's good enough to call it that.

RE: Immortality
By Da W on 12/1/2010 9:01:37 AM , Rating: 2
Eventually the whole galaxy is gonna be swallowed by the massive black hole at its center, it would think this will be the ultimate form of death.

RE: Immortality
By wordsworm on 12/2/2010 12:12:31 AM , Rating: 2
If I live to see it, that would be awesome. Hell, I'd be plenty happy just to watch our star go supernova in five or so billion years.

RE: Immortality
By aegisofrime on 11/29/2010 11:05:59 AM , Rating: 5
On the other hand, science fiction often portrays Humans as being very ambitious and aggressive due to our short lifespans, compared to whatever long-lived aliens there are in that universe. I do think that immortality will probably be a boon. When we die, a world of experience and knowledge dies along with us. With immortality perhaps we will have more time to put all those to good use.

RE: Immortality
By Kurz on 11/29/2010 11:59:47 AM , Rating: 2
Honestly Agressiveness and abitiousness has little to do with the fear of death and more our genetic wiring in the first place.

If someone is Abitious/Agressive It doesn't matter what age or point in their life they are in they'll be those things.

(Mass effect series brought that same view point)

RE: Immortality
By Iketh on 12/1/2010 4:22:52 PM , Rating: 2
I always think of space travel with immortality. All the arguments say light-speed or greater is impossible and this is what limits us from exploring the universe.

With immortality, we'll have all the time in the world...

RE: Immortality
By corduroygt on 11/29/2010 11:21:55 AM , Rating: 5
The problem with immortality is that there can only be one.

RE: Immortality
By thrust2night on 11/29/2010 10:03:01 PM , Rating: 2
The sensation you feel is the Quickening.

RE: Immortality
By killerclick on 11/29/2010 11:27:31 AM , Rating: 2
Life won't change too much. People will just get used to longer (indefinite) lifespans as most people don't spend their time dwelling on aging and dying anyway.

Many people are worried about overpopulation but I'm not and for two reasons:
1. population growth is slowly stabilizing all around the world;
2. human history up to this point has shown that people create resources more than they consume resources. The standard of living was steadily improving with population growth for the last several centuries. There is five times more people on Earth now than two hundred years ago and the average person today has much more resources at their disposal. We are ingenious critters and we can easily grow to 20 billion even with current technology, never mind seaborne solar powered vertical farms with desalination facilities.

RE: Immortality
By gamerk2 on 11/29/2010 12:53:10 PM , Rating: 3
You, my friend,don't quite understand cause and effect. We're already stretching resources to the breaking point as it is, and you think we can grow to 4x our number?

RE: Immortality
By killerclick on 11/29/2010 1:12:03 PM , Rating: 1
That's a fallacy. We're nowhere near breaking point when resources are concerned. There's never been more humans on the planet and the standard of living has never been higher. Sure there are oscillations in energy and food prices but those are economic and political issues that do not affect the overall trend.

RE: Immortality
By Dr of crap on 11/29/10, Rating: 0
RE: Immortality
By killerclick on 11/29/2010 3:17:50 PM , Rating: 1

RE: Immortality
By Flail on 11/29/2010 5:39:19 PM , Rating: 2
I loooooooooooove me some genocide.

herp derp.

RE: Immortality
By Chocobollz on 12/2/2010 1:28:02 AM , Rating: 2
Nope, that's not a fallacy, that's what I called it "thinking". Obviously, you forgot about the diminishing return effect, eg. adding more cores to a CPU will indeed push the performance up, but there'll be a limit, so too human population. You accelerate the growth and you'll hit the limit faster. The amount of works done are also not going up in proportional with the amount of people, eg. 1 people can finish the work in 1 hour, 2 people in 45 minutes, and so on. But the amount of resources needed always going in proportional, if not higher. So in effect, more people means less effective population.

You're also forgetting about all of the negative side-effects, eg. more poverty, etc. Just because you live in a peaceful neighborhood and have a high standard of living, doesn't mean it is on another side of the world. It's already very hard to live for example, in Africa, and what do you expect if you increase their population by 4 times? Yep, they'll start to migrate to another place. Let's hope your place isn't the one they're thinking of.

Oh, and the best thing is, 4x more peoples means 4x times more criminals too. And I haven't even mention about terrorists. Do you really want that many nuts? LOL

RE: Immortality
By MCKENZIE1130 on 11/29/2010 8:03:50 PM , Rating: 1
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RE: Immortality
By goku on 11/29/2010 8:44:17 PM , Rating: 2
I thought the reason people split up is because of aging.. That there is a disconnect and one gets "tired" or "isn't in the mood" any more while the other is. Or even worse, one is aging badly and the spouse cant stand to look at them or deal with them because one of the major reasons they're with that other spouse is because of the looks looks they had and little else.

RE: Immortality
By JediJeb on 12/1/2010 11:40:05 AM , Rating: 2
That definitely wouldn't explain why many couples split after two years of marriage while in their twenties. Most couples that split up are because they jumped in to quickly without getting to know each other well enough first.

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