Friday, September 07, 2007

Elixer Of Youth Through A Simple Injection?

The 'elixir of life' that could soon be given by injection

The prospect of holding back the years with a simple injection could be closer than we think.

Scientists have taken a step towards developing a treatment that could erase the health problems associated with ageing.

While their breakthrough relates to rogue genes behind two rare genetic diseases, the approach they used could one day be harnessed to slow down the ageing process - creating an "elixir of life".

The research focuses on mitochondria, sausage-shaped "powerhouses" in every cell of the body except red blood cells.
They turn the food we eat into energy that can be used by the heart, muscles, brain and other parts of the body.

Research has suggested their deterioration is an important cause of ageing, according to a report in New Scientist magazine.

Defects in this mitochondrial DNA are blamed for a range of rare genetic diseases, including some forms of diabetes, blindness and heart problems.

They have also been linked to ageing - suggesting that fixing the flaws could slow down the onset of old age.

However, all attempts to fix flaws by inserting healthy DNA into mitochondria - a technique known as gene therapy - have failed, with the fresh genes stubbornly staying outside the powerhouses.

Now, by labelling the functional genes with an "address code" - which effectively tells them where to go - French scientists have succeeded in smuggling them inside the mitochondria.

Once there, the pair of genes repaired the damage behind a rare form of blindness and a muscle wasting disease, says the New Scientist report.

In time, the same approach could be used to create injections of genes that will erase flaws thought to be linked to the ageing process.

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Snake Oil Baron said...

Mitochondria are certainly one branch of research into aging, probably exceeding telomeres in current interest. I seem to remember faulty mitochondria being implicated in cancer due to their role in programed cell death. It seems to me though that if one could get some stem cells made with healthy mitochondria, good telomeres and unmutated DNA and you had a fair understanding of how to grow the stem cells in bulk and how to guide the differentiation you would be much closer to ending aging than by trying to reprogram individual cells. Getting something right once and then copying it seems easier than repairing a large number of mistakes.

At any rate, it sounds like there is still a lot of work to do. What is described as a "simple injection" might actually involve thousands of localized injections and the cost will take a while to come down. Exercise, diet and such will still be important for anyone hoping to reach an extended lifespan.

I suspect that there will be a lot of people who are asking whether or not ending aging is a good thing. I do understand such objections but I don't share them in the least. Aside from the general dislike of humanity (which I also understand but usually do not share - or at least try not to), the only real objection to extended life is the fear of over population and ecological harm. I feel that lower fertility rates for the planet - not just the wealthy and educated, combined with the growing opportunities for human expansion under the sea, into the deserts and ultimately into space will far exceed any pressure for earthly reserves. Having people who have lived for years learning history, politics, economics, science, engineering and such will be of immense benefit to humanity. If even a few of those who gain extended lifespans take advantage of the opportunities that are available they could be of unprecedented benefit to humanity.

Armand Rousso said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Armand Rousso said...

The title elixir of youth is quite exaggerated but the conclusion of this post is quite interesting. If today thousand of localised injection can reduce the effect of aging, what about tomorrow, will we be able to stay forever young?

Armand Rousso

Jan-Willem Bats said...

"The title elixir of youth is quite exaggerated..."

Hey, I'm just going with the original article's title, man. ;)