Article in Polish Daily News (Nowy Dziennik)

March 8, 2010

Can we live longer? – Aleksandra Slabisz, Nowy Dziennik, February 19, 2010.

[This article was translated from the original Polish article that appeared in the Polish Daily News (Nowy Dziennik) on February 19, 2010.]

Is it possible to delay ageing? Can man live 120 years and enjoy the health of a 50 year old?  It is possible, scientists say.
Delaying ageing will allow man to enjoy healthy life longer. Many ailments like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases knock us down around 50, when our body starts to get weaker and more vulnerable.  “If we could mitigate ageing we could stave off age related health problems”, say scientists in Robert Kane Pappas’s film To Age or Not to Age, which premiered last week (February 11th, 2010) in Symphony Space in Manhattan.
Scientists like David Sinclair, Ph.D. (Harvard), Cynthia Kenyon, Ph.D. (UCSF), Leonard Guarente, Ph.D. (MIT) and Gordon Lithgow, Ph.D. (The Buck Institute) Pappas interviews in his film say that they have found a way to delay ageing.

“Longevity and disease prevention go hand in hand. They are intertwined”, said Dr. Leonard Guarente during a discussion after the film screening. “Ageing genes and diseases appear to be the same thing”, Lithgow says in the film.

It is genes such as SIRT2/SIR1 in certain conditions get activated and stabilize DNA, the side effect of which is increased lifespan.
At this stage scientists have been able to extend the lifespan of simple organisms like yeast and mice.  Too little time has passed to be able to tell with all certainty that the methods used would work on humans. The researchers from MIT say, however, that it is only a matter of time.

“We are not talking about living forever, but extending our life by 10-30 percent”, Guarente adds. Hence instead of living 80-90 years we would live 110 years.

The task the scientists are facing now is to discover a drug, which would affect genes in such a way that they would mitigate ageing.

Research on ageing and later on drugs that could delay the process has been conducted since the 1990s.  In the last several years molecular biologists got interested in two compounds: resveratrol and rapamycin. The first one is a substance found in skin of red grapes, red wine and peanuts. The other one in the soil of the Easter Island. Both compounds in animals mimic the response to calorie restriction diet, to which many attribute the ability to extend the life span of yeast cells and mice.
Resveratrol is now available as a dietary supplement.  It is produced by Sirtris Pharmaceutical, a company founded by David Sinclair and Christoph Westphal (in 2008 bought by GlaxoSmithKline).  Researchers maintain that resveratrol and like substances may have propensity to fight age-related diseases.  The compound is now clinically tested for its ability to be used in treatment of certain types of diabetes and cancer.
Other research conducted by biochemist Frank Madeo and Tobias Eisenberg from Austrian University of Graz shows that a compound in human semen – spermidine can extend the lifespan of yeast by a factor of four, in fruit flies by 30 % and in worms by 15 %.  When spermidine was applied to human immune cells, they too lived longer – we read in the article on ageing in the newest issue of Time Magazine.
At the same time, the National Institute of Ageing is sponsoring studies on people who live up to their 80s, 90s or even 100.
Contemporary centenarians are incredibly strong individuals, whose bodies have a propensity to rebuild and bounce back after ailments and diseases. They enjoy relatively good health till the end of their days, contrary to most people who half way through their lives fall prey to chronic heart disease, cancer as well as dementia.
On the one hand, the studies on long living individuals focus on determining what factors from their lifestyle (good habits, diet, physical activity, memory training) are responsible for their longevity and good health. In the New England Centenarian Study conducted on 850 people the following things were singled out as having an effect on lifespan: non smoking, being extroverted, easygoing and lean.
On the other hand, some researchers say, centenarians enjoy good health for long years due to the genes, and work on building the genomic map explaining the longevity and their strong organisms.
Yet others, like scientists from the Harvard Medical School, are working on discovering the secret of the centenarians’ brains and also what genes allow for staving off the Alzheimer’s and the dementia – the ailments of the old age, without eliminating of which there is no point in seeking longevity. One of the researchers says that keeping the body fit, healthy diet and avoiding pollution, toxins and carcinogens may have a positive influence on genes responsible for ageing and mental activity.
The studies on centenarians do not guarantee discovering a miracle longevity pill in the nearest future. They aim primarily at finding out how to prevent losses we incur living in today’s times, under constant pressure, eating unhealthy and in large quantities, and not moving enough.

“One of the misconceptions of ageing research is that we are looking to prevent ageing”, says Sinclair quoted in Time. “What we are hoping to do is to come up with something that will give us a lifestyle that now only centenarians enjoy”.

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