Scientists Reverse Aging in Mice. Next Up, Humans?

Nov 30, 2010
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.
A few mice like these guys are on their way to living longer than expected. (Photo: Koki Iino/Getty Images)

Harvard scientists may have unlocked the secret to reversing the aging process.

Now, before Joan Rivers gets too excited, the anti-aging experiment was conducted on mice, and was effective on mice. Determining whether or not the process has the same impact on humans is many, many research grants away.

So how did the Harvard biologists turn back the mousey body clock?

The Guardian reports:

The Harvard group focused on a process called telomere shortening. Most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, which carry our DNA. At the ends of each chromosome is a protective cap called a telomere. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres are snipped shorter, until eventually they stop working and the cell dies or goes into a suspended state called "senescence." The process is behind much of the wear and tear associated with aging.

In the experiment, genetically manipulated mice were bred to lack the enzyme that stops the telomere from shortening. These mice aged very quickly and had tinier brains. When they were injected with the telomere-preserving enzyme, their organs were restored and the signs of aging vanished.

Ronald DePinho led the study, which was published in the journal Nature. He told the Guardian: "What we saw in these animals was not a slowing down or stabilisation of the aging process. We saw a dramatic reversal—and that was unexpected."

Phew, okay, we've digested the scientific mice stuff. Now what about the humans?

Well, that's a little more difficult.

Mice continue to make the enzyme telomerase throughout their lives. Humans do not. The human body cuts off telomerase production to stop cells from growing and turning into cancer with age. So injecting humans with telomerase could potentially stop aging, but it could also raise the risk of cancer.

According to the Guardian, "DePinho said the treatment might be safe in humans if it were given periodically and only to younger people who do not have tiny clumps of cancer cells already living, unnoticed, in their bodies."

Regardless of what comes next in this unprecedented line of study, keep in mind that nature always puts a price on any alterations to her work.

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