Decoding the ageing process

Scientists are beginning to decode the complex biology of ageing and are optimistic that recent advances in research may lead to treatments that can slow or even reverse degeneration and disease.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sat 19 Nov 2011, 10:05 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:40 AM

“We are seeing a major change, very important developments and real therapeutic efforts to try to treat age-related illnesses,” said Norman Sharpless, professor of medicine and genetics at the University of North Carolina.

“It’s a very exciting time in aeing research,” said Sharpless, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in the university’s school of medicine, citing recent studies in France and the US.

The French research, led by Jean-Marc Lemaitre at the Functional Genomics Institute, published in October, shows cells from elderly donors can be rejuvenated as stem cells, erasing the ravages of age and proving that ageing is reversible.

“It’s a major advance,” Sharpless said, noting that if many age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular problems or Alzheimer’s are to be defeated, regenerative medicine will be required. But he stressed that “cellular therapy is very difficult to develop,” and expectations must be kept in check.

“The way trials work, it is going to be a couple of years before that research is translated into human ageing research because of the risk of cancer frankly,” Sharpless warned. “The worry is while those cells are great, there are some risks for the recipients.”

At the end of 2010 an American study in Boston showed that ageing could be reversed in mice that were treated with telomerase, a naturally occurring enzyme in the body that protects DNA sequences (telomeres) at the end of chromosomes and which shorten cellular ageing.

Judith Campisi, of the Buck Institute for Age Research at the University of California at Berkeley, said the recent research carried out in France and the US bodes well for the future.

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