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Of (Immortal) Mice and Men

The journal Nature is reporting that scientists have reversed the aging process in mice. Are you next?

There are several factors which contribute to aging, but science has been focusing lately on telomeres — the “bread-ties” on the ends of chromosomes — as the hypothetical Holy Grail. As cells divide, these ties become frayed and result in poorer copies, until eventually we encounter what we call the Hayflick Limit.

Is he the key to your 969th birthday?

Scientists at Harvard have managed to repair telomeres, and as a result have rejuvinated old mice into younger versions of themselves. They have quite literally turned back the biological clock.

If this rejuvenation works with rodents, are primates so far off. The mechanics of cellular division are fundamentally the same.

According to Ronald DePinho, coauthor of the paper:

“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.”

Are we on the cusp of radically transforming ourselves and our civilization? I can’t say this news is unexpected; aging as a mechanical process surely has a mechanical solution.

The challenge at this point is, according to the scientists, the fact that fooling with telomeres also raises cancer risk.

Among other challenges:

4 comments to Of (Immortal) Mice and Men

  • Ivan

    Why do you say

    “Scientists at Harvard have managed to repair telomeres, and as a result have rejuvinated old mice into younger versions of themselves. They have quite literally turned back the biological clock.”

    without mentioning

    “Other scientists, however, point out that mice lacking telomerase are a poor stand-in for the normal ageing process. Moreover, ramping up telomerase in humans could potentially encourage the growth of tumours.”

    They “healed” mice with telomerase defficiency. That’s still far from a fountain of youth.

  • Ivan

    Another important snippet from the nature article:
    “Harrison also questions whether mice lacking telomerase are a good model for human ageing. “They are not studying normal ageing, but ageing in mice made grossly abnormal,” he says. Tom Kirkwood, who directs the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, UK, agrees, pointing out that telomere erosion “is surely not the only, or even dominant, cause” of ageing in humans.”

    I have to admit, that bothers me.
    It’s incredible research, so why diminish it by hyping it out of proportion :(

  • borkhead

    Keep in mind, though, that these weren’t normal elderly mice. These were mice that were genetically engineered to lack the telomerase enzyme to begin with, thus causing them to be prematurely elderly. It is certainly interesting and hints that we may be looking in the right spot. I am anxious to see what happens when they tailor this treatment to mice that are naturally aged.

  • Brian Trent

    Hi Ivan,

    The negative effects of telomerase are well documented indeed; that is certainly not being debated here. However, this does not change the fact that the scientists involved in the experiment have managed to rejuvenate their rodent test subjects. The eventual debilitating effects linked to the technique are an adjacent subject, one which may or may not be addressed by further research and development.

    The tumors aren’t being ignored. They just don’t change, in the short-term, the magnitude of what the scientists were able to achieve. It’s another problem for another day.

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