Biological Immortality: Scientists Reverse Aging Process in Mice

First Posted: Jan 31, 2014 11:41 AM EST

Though various attempts at biological immortality have resulted in failure, only to be swept up by stories of science fiction novels and movies, an experimental treatment created by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, shows that in time, it may not be an impossible goal for humans. 

Scientists found that they were able to slow down the aging process in mice models used for their study.

The anti-aging therapy used for the experiment could make a dramatic impact on public health by reducing certain age-related health issues, including heart disease, dementia and stroke, as well as prolonging the overall quality of life.

"What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilisation of the ageing process. We saw a dramatic reversal - and that was unexpected," said lead study author of the school Ronald DePinho, via The Guardian."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."

For the study, researchers examined a process known as telomere-shortening. As most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes that carry out our DNA, at the end of each chromosome is a protective cap known as a telomere that stops working when a cell divides.

The study authors worked with genetically manipulated mice that lacked a telomerase enzyme that causes telomeres to get shorter and the mice to age prematurely, as well as suffer from a greater amount of ailments. Yet when researchers gave the mice injections that reactivated the enzyme, damaged tissues were repaired and signs of aging reversed.

However, further studies will need to be conducted in order to test these findings in humans. DePhinho notes that though raising levels of telomerase in humans can slow the aging process, it increases the risk for cancer.

More information regarding the study can be found via the journal Nature

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