Scientists promise 'forever young' drug soon

Scientists promise 'forever young' drug soon

The landmark research on mice led by Ronald DePinho of Harvard University in the US found that the effects of ageing can be successfully reversed.

Before the study, the skin, brains, guts and other organs of the rodents resembled those of an 80-year-old person. But, within just two months of being given a drug that switches on a key enzyme, the animals had grown so many new cells that they had almost completely rejuvenated.

Remarkably, the male mice went from being infertile to fathering large litters, the Daily Mail reported.

The experiments mirror the story of the Hollywood film 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button', in which the lead character played by Brad Pitt ages in reverse.

According to the scientists, success of their experiment means development of new drugs that might allow men and women to have children naturally until they are a ripe old age.

Lives could be longer and healthier, free from illnesses such as Alzheimer's and heart disease, with skin and hair retaining its youthful lustre, they hoped.

Dr DePinho said: "In human terms, it would be like having a 40-year-old person who looked 80-plus and reversing the effects to the levels of a 50-year-old.

"By 2025 we are going to have 1.2 billion people aged over 60, which is when you start to see cancer, Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease.

"We are on a collision course for a significant amount of burden to society. This is the first time that ageing has been reversed. This suggests that there is a point of return for ageing organs that we had not previously appreciated."

For their research, published in the journal Nature, the scientists focused on breakthrough centres on structures called telomeres.

According to them, these are tiny biological clocks that cap the ends of chromosomes, protecting them from damage. With time, the telomeres get shorter and shorter, raising the odds of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Eventually they become so short that the cells die. But an enzyme called telomerase can rebuild the telomere caps but is normally switched off in the body.

Dr DePinho succeeded in shocking the enzyme back to life in mice that had prematurely aged in a way designed to mimic the human ageing process.

Dr DePinho expected that the technique would halt or slow the ageing process, but was stunned to find that it reversed it.

Now, he believes it should be possible to make a pill that does the same in people.
Given in middle age, it could delay or prevent the development of Alzheimer's, heart disease and diabetes. It might even extend life, he said.

But there are important caveats. High levels of telomerase can fuel the growth of cancers, and one drug is unlikely to smooth away all the problems of ageing.

"There are multiple mechanisms that conspire to lead to ageing. So, although we think that telomeres are important, there are other factors that come into play," Dr DePinho added.

Dr Steven Artandi, a telomere expert at Stanford University in the US, described the study as "beautiful" but cautioned that an anti-ageing drug is still more than ten years away.

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