Will new discoveries in biochemistry lead to longer lives?  There are hopeful signs that aging can be delayed, if not prevented.  Whether or not that happens in our lifetimes (causing new worries for Social Security), scientists are learning amazing things about how cells work that should give us more reason for Thanksgiving.

  1. 100-year-old youth:  Get this. Skin cells taken from donors aged 74 to 101 have been returned to newborn youth, using the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) method of reprogramming cells to the pluripotent state.  According to Science Daily, signs of aging were “erased” in these cells.  They “recovered their capacity for self-renewal and their former differentiation potential, and do not preserve any traces of previous aging.”  This means that age is not a barrier to reprogramming.  Elders can imagine a fountain of youth: “This research paves the way for the therapeutic use of iPS, insofar as an ideal source of adult cells is provided, which are tolerated by the immune system and can repair organs or tissues in elderly patients.”
  2. Your personal fountain of youth:  If your own skin cells can be rejuvenated fresh as a baby, why not bank them?  In “Personal Stem Cell Banks Could Be Staple of Future Health Care,” Science Daily discussed that very possibility.  Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that old stem cells can be rejuvenated by placing them in a young microenvironment.  “This raises the possibility that patients’ own stem cells may one day be rescued and banked to treat their age-related diseases.”  The Texans were apparently unaware of the work cited above that shows even centenarians donating cells that can be regenerated like new: “Older stem cells are not as robust as young ones,” this article claimed.  If they are robust, why not store them like gold for a rainy day?
  3. Eternal cells:  Ever since telomeres (like caps on the ends of chromosomes) were found to act as a countdown mechanism for cell division, researchers have been eager to know if their lifetimes can be extended.  There is an enzyme, telomerase, that puts new telomeres on chromosomes, but usually just in embryonic cells.  Medical Xpress reported that scientists at the German Cancer Research Center have found an alternate pathway for telomere lengthening.  Research shows that some cancer cells use this alternate mechanism; that is why they keep dividing without limit.  Learning how to prolong telomeres for good cells and arrest them for tumor cells is an important work in progress (see 9/25/2010)….

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