On Nov. 28, a group of Harvard University researchers published results from a tantalizing study in the online edition of the journal Nature. Their experiment involved mice who were genetically engineered to lack telomerase — an enzyme that maintains protective DNA caps on the end of chromosomes. People (and mice) with long caps, called telomeres, tend to live longer than those with short caps. Without the protective enzyme, these poor Harvard mice die at around six months of age.
Posts Tagged ‘aging’
Most scientists who study human longevity search for genes that determine who is most likely to make it to age 100. Researchers at the University of Miami are taking a different approach: They’re studying the genes that allow people to stay healthy into old age.
By focusing on Amish people who have lived to 80, the researchers hope to pinpoint the genes that promote “successful aging”—the ability to live without disease, depression, frailty, or loss of independence for longer than average. “We’re looking not just to predict how old you’ll get, but how well you’ll age,” says William K. Scott, professor of human genetics at the university’s school of medicine.
What is it about centenarians that gives them the gift of extraordinarily long lives? On Nov. 1, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York launched a website, www.superagers.com, which tracks one scientist’s decade-long quest to answer that question. Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the college’s Institute for Aging Research, has been studying 500 Ashkenazi Jews age 95 and older, along with 700 of their children. He’s trying to uncover the genes that promote long life — discoveries that he hopes will lead to drugs to prevent age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Read more here.
Aubrey de Grey is one of the most polarizing figures in the field of aging research. That’s because he believes technology will eventually make us immortal. So I read with interest a lengthy interview in Wired, in which he covers a number of topics, including:
* A prize he’s offering to anyone who can grow and transplant a viable organ
* The lack of funding for legitimate aging research (not anti-aging research)
* Why Oprah rarely features real scientists on her show
* Whether anti-aging therapies will on be accessible to the rich
A few years ago, former “Three’s Company” star Suzanne Somers embarked on a new career: She became a proponent of bioidentical hormones, which she describes as safe and natural therapies for menopausal women. She wrote three bestselling books on the topic, “The Sexy Years,” “Ageless” and “Breakthrough.” And to cap it all off, she will appear in a movie–titled “Suzanne Somers’ Breakthrough Tour,” which will show in some movie theaters on November 4 and November 9.
Read more here.
A study published in the Oct. 13 online edition of the journal Neurology shows that walking six miles a week prevents the brain from shrinking, which in turn preserves memory in aging people. It’s just the latest of many studies proving that good old exercise is the best anti-aging treatment around.
The study, conducted by University of Pittsburgh scientists, lasted for nine years and tracked the exercise habits of 299 people. The researchers found that walking 72 blocks per week–about the equivalent of six to nine miles–increased gray matter in the brain. Participants who were the most avid walkers cut their risk of suffering memory problems by half.
As I’ve been out speaking about Selling the Fountain of Youth over the last several weeks, I’ve often been asked what works when it comes to slowing down the aging process? I believe this latest study confirms what I’ve been telling people: Exercise is the only anti-aging remedy that has been shown to work in scientific, controlled trials.
“If regular exercise in midlife could improve brain health and improve thinking and memory in later life, it would be one more reason to make regular exercise in people of all ages a public health imperative,” said Kirk I. Erickson in a press release. I couldn’t agree more.
One study I cite in the book showed that men who became fit decreased their risk of dieing of any disease by a whopping 44%. And you don’t have to do Mr. Universe-style workouts to reap the benefits. Many studies have shown that moderate exercise–walking, gardening, climbing stairs–for a half hour, a few times a week, is more than adequate. This latest data on the benefits of walking should only drive home that point.
Here’s my bottom line: If you want to stay young, throw out the hormone gels and pricey supplements, turn off the TV, and take a walk. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
In Selling the Fountain of Youth, I write about the plethora of Internet offers for “free trials” of supplements that purportedly extend life, such as acai berry and resveratrol. Earlier this year, the Web was over-run with ads featuring Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz, as if to imply these celebrities had actually endorsed specific acai and resveratrol products for anti-aging (they hadn’t). Winfrey and Oz sued 50 Internet supplement sellers, and most of those ads came off the Web.
However, as I discovered recently while reporting a story for the US News & World Report retirement issue, many seniors are still falling for free-trial offers that aren’t exactly free. The problem is so pervasive that the Federal Trade Commission is now getting involved. Read more here.
Imagine my surprise when I opened my e-mail and found a note from a biomedical researcher at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, Spain. His name is Manuel Collado. He heard about my book, Googled it, and came across this site. “I am totally shocked,” he wrote. Why? Because he also has a blog about the search for eternal youth, “La Fuente de la Eterna Juventud” (http://fuentedelaeternajuventud.wordpress.com). And like me, he is trying to help his readers sort truth from fiction in the many anti-aging claims that are out there.
I asked Manuel for his perspective on anti-aging medicine.
Q: Your specialty as a scientist is cellular senescence. Explain what that is, in laymen’s terms?
A: All the cells that make up our body have a limited potential of proliferation: When they have undergone a certain number of cell divisions, they permanently stop proliferating. This phenomenon was originally described in the ´60s by Leonard Hayflick and was considered the cellular basis of the aging process. Accordingly, our bodies would stop regenerating because our cells can no longer divide. Later on, research on the enzyme telomerase and the protective structure at the tips of our chromosomes–the telomeres–showed that the cells “decide” to stop proliferating when they “feel” that their telomeres have reached a critically short length due to the erosion they suffer as a consequence of cell division.
Other processes have also been shown to trigger this cellular senescence response in the cell. Many were considered to reflect the natural process of aging, such as the accumulation of oxidative damage, but in the late years of the last century, cellular senescence was revealed as a natural defense mechanism of our bodies against cancer. When an oncogene becomes activated within the cell due to a mutation, or the cell suffers a potentially oncogenic damage, it will induce senescence as a way to make sure that the defect is not propagated into the daughter cells through cell division to form a tumor. We, and others, identified this type of response in human and mouse tissues.
Q: How did this work cause you to become interested in anti-aging medicine?
A: The molecular machinery behind the cellular senescence response is composed of a series of proteins encoded in genes, known as tumor suppressor genes. During cancer development, these tumor suppressor genes are frequently mutated or inactivated to cancel the protective senescence response and allow tumor growth. Strikingly, some of these same tumor suppressor genes appear to become active and increase their expression during aging. This has led many to believe that the increase in tumor suppressors during aging induces cellular senescence, and that the accumulation of these arrested cells causes the dysfunction of tissues characteristic of aging.
Our laboratory has addressed this question by generating mice that were genetically manipulated to express higher doses of these tumor suppressor genes. What we found is that these modified animals are more protected against cancer and at the same time live longer. They developed fewer tumors and less aging-associated pathologies. Their skin, bones, neuromuscular coordination, metabolism, etc, resembled those of younger animals.
At the same time, it is a well-known fact that cancer is mainly a disease of aging. This interplay between cancer and aging, cellular senescence as a tumor suppressor mechanism or the basis of aging, the possibility of enhancing our anti-cancer defenses while at the same time gaining in healthspan (the period of one’s life free from chronic diseases), makes the whole field a very attractive area of research.
Q: The name of your blog, in English, is “The Fountain of Eternal Youth.” What are some of the subjects you write about there?
A: My intention when I started this blog was mainly to provide information on the fantastic research that has been done on the molecular basis of aging. Many molecular pathways have been proposed to be responsible for the aging process and this knowledge has prompted many to propose potential interventions that could result in healthier aging.
Aging is obviously a process governed by multiple and complex factors that we do not fully understand yet, and it is intricately entwined with basic processes of life whose connections still need to be investigated.
However, the rapid communication of spectacular laboratory results–together with the greed of people willing to cash from the logical human desire to remain forever healthy and young–has launched a plethora of un-tested therapies, “miracle” cures, and even bogus remedies.
The blog is still in its infancy, but we have already covered issues such as cellular senescence, telomeres and telomerase, calorie restriction, antioxidants, stem cell-based therapies, and the like.
Q: As you know, there is a lot of misinformation out there about what has actually been proven to extend life (if anything). What is an example of an anti-aging claim that you’ve come across that you think has been overblown or improperly communicated to patients?
A: To start with the first part of your question, there is absolutely nothing that has proven to be effective extending life or even just preventing age-related diseases.
One of the most astonishing anti-aging claims that antioxidants will help people live young forever and avoid cancer and all diseases. While it is true that there is some good solid research on the possible role of oxidative stress as a mediator of the aging pathologies–as well as in cancer development–a clear causative role is far from being proven. The efficacy of an antioxidant intervention, therefore, is even further away from being established. If anything, when tested in clinical trials involving healthy volunteers, it showed that it is more detrimental than beneficial. Still, we constantly receive the message that we should be eating food and drinks containing plenty of antioxidants and even swallowing antioxidant supplements. There is no evidence and no scientific basis to think that this would do any good, only data showing how dangerous it might be.
Q: What is the one thing you tell people they can do right now–safely and effectively–to help extend their lives?
A: Even the more sensible health advice, based on reasonable assumptions, should not be advertized as capable of protecting us from aging or extending our life. Healthy habits such as some regular physical exercise, varied and balanced diet, staying fit and keeping an active network of relationships with friends and family, might not extend our lives, but surely they will make them more enjoyable.
Here’s how to find Manuel:
I am now blogging on aging for the Huffington Post. Here’s a taste of my first item:
An academic study with a provocative title landed in my inbox the other day. It’s called “Deal or No Deal: Hormones and the Mergers and Acquisitions Game,” and in it, two finance professors from the University of British Columbia argue that CEOs with high testosterone levels are likely to act recklessly in mergers and acquisitions. Testosterone-laden execs have an outsized propensity to initiate deals, the professors found, but they’re also more likely to rebuff acquisition attempts by rivals, or to scrap deals that are already in progress.
Two very interesting aging-related news items came across my desk this week. The first is a blog entry in Science on the discovery of a type of cave-dwelling salamander that lives to be 100. It’s called an olm, it’s about 15 grams, and it lives in caves throughout Europe.
Why does it live so long? Scientists are stumped. It has no natural predators, which helps, but it lacks some of the traits that other long-lived animals have. For example, it doesn’t have the naturally protective benefits of being large (like an elephant) or of having a low metabolic rate. It’s not immune to oxidative stress, which is thought to contribute to aging. The scientists plan to study the olm, in the hopes of unlocking the secrets to extreme aging.
Meanwhile a gerontologist named Robert Young, who works for Guinness World Records, has made it his job to track people who live to 100 and beyond. According to his records, the oldest living human is Eugenie Blanchard of the French territory of Saint Barthelemy. (WSJ subscription may be required to read more.)
Surprisingly, the number of centenarians has grown 32% in the past five years, while the number of “super-centenarians”–those who live to 110–has stayed flat. No one is quite sure why that is. But perhaps the salamander will someday provide clues into how the rest of us can achieve the rare milestone of 100-plus.