Print 46 comment(s) - last by Chocobollz.. on Dec 2 at 1:43 AM

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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With great power comes great responsibility
By Mogounus on 11/29/2010 12:31:57 PM , Rating: 2
While the idea of endless youth or a significantly prolonged life greatly appeals to me I can't seem to shake a certain feeling of concern about such a concept. Who would get access to this? Just the richest of us that can afford it? What about already overpopulated areas of the world? China? India? Africa? Even increasing people's lifespan by 50% would cause a huge population boom. In places in the world where hunger and scarcity of resources is an issue severe turmoil would result if they had access to this. In most Western countries it wouldn't be much of an issue as without immigration the populations would be declining anyway, so it would be more of a salvation. Either way I think the problem of aging will inevitably be solved, only question is whether humanity will be ready for it or if it.

RE: With great power comes great responsibility
By killerclick on 11/29/2010 1:14:50 PM , Rating: 2
More people means more jobs means more economic activity means improved technology means we can support even more people. It's been the trend for centuries because unlike animals humans also create resources.

RE: With great power comes great responsibility
By Mogounus on 11/29/2010 2:11:54 PM , Rating: 2
True, but at a high cost to the environment. There are already severe issues with deforestation, extinction of species, overfishing, pollution, damage caused by mining. The earth has a certain capacity to support human activity and I think we are pretty close to that limit and would say we have already exceeded a healthy balance. Unless people become more aware of their impact on the environment or a lot of technological progress is made to limit it we are faced with severe ecological damage. If you think otherwise maybe you should take a trip to India or industrial areas in China.

By killerclick on 11/29/2010 2:59:16 PM , Rating: 1
There is a cost to everything but any ecological damage can (and probably will) pay off in the longer term - just like the Industrial Revolution did. It's not like industry damages the environment for fun - industry creates economic activity which in turn increases the quality of life. Not that we shouldn't be mindful of energy efficiency and sustainability of resources but we shouldn't panic until there is a reason to panic.

By Kurz on 11/30/2010 1:32:31 PM , Rating: 2
All those issues are because they all reside in the Common Grounds. No one owns them. If someone owns them and would love for them to continue to be bountiful then they will be managed.

Hence the White/Black Rhinos are going extinct.
No one owns them so the most efficient way to get their horns is shooting them and cutting it off.
In cattle situation they'll be drugged to take off their horn.

RE: With great power comes great responsibility
By niva on 11/29/2010 9:56:09 PM , Rating: 3
You've stated that "humans create resources" multiple times in the comments of this article, but can you please give us an example of what you mean? I don't understand it. I understand how we consume resources, but what useful resources for the rest of the natural food chain have we created?

By Chocobollz on 12/2/2010 1:43:30 AM , Rating: 2
The answer is simple: WE DON'T. We can only "combine" resources. And by combining, I mean taking resources from somewhere and putting it together. That means one less resource for something other than human. Just like energy that can't be created or destroyed. His short thinking attitude wouldn't understand that simple facts.

By Skywalker123 on 11/30/2010 1:12:25 AM , Rating: 3
a bad trend that will end in disaster.

RE: With great power comes great responsibility
By delphinus100 on 11/29/2010 8:29:40 PM , Rating: 2
Who would get access to this? Just the richest of us that can afford it?

An oft-stated concern. And yet no one can tell me why it must necessarily be very expensive?

In places in the world where hunger and scarcity of resources is an issue severe turmoil would result if they had access to this.

Obviously, most of those people aren't dying of age-related causes. Cheap longevity, without changing anything else, won't change that. Knowing that you could live a thousand years, won't help you if you drink that cholera-contaminated water in front of you right now...

only question is whether humanity will be ready for it or if it.

Are we ever really 'ready' for any technology...?

By xsilver on 11/30/2010 3:07:16 AM , Rating: 2
An oft-stated concern. And yet no one can tell me why it must necessarily be very expensive?


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