What if you could REVERSE the aging process–not only for your entire body, but for individual ailing organs, such as your heart, as well? Researchers have done it with mice: They turned weak and feeble oldsters into healthy animals through regeneration.
The researchers used a process called telomere shortening. Most cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, and at the ends of each one is a protective cap called a telomere. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres become shorter, until eventually they stop working and the cell dies or goes into a suspended state called "senescence," which is when the body starts to age visibly. What stops this is an enzyme called telomerase, which mice make all their lives (although they DO age), it’s switched off in humans, probably in order that cancer cells don’t proliferate.
Although none of the mice came down with cancer, unregulated cell growth is what causes cancer and scientists are afraid that this type of cell manipulation will lead to cancerous tumors, especially if there are already small, undetected cancers in the body of the person being treated. But some scientists remain optimistic that they’ve finally discovered a fountain of youth. In the November 28th edition of the Guardian, Ian Sample quotes researcher Ronald DePinho as saying, "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."
However, others are more cautious. Sample quotes researcher David Kipling as saying, "Although this is a fascinating study, it must be remembered that mice are not little men, particularly with regard to their telomeres, and it remains unclear whether a similar telomerase reactivation in adult humans would lead to the removal of senescent cells."
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