Friday, March 13

Understanding (and preventing) Aging

The secret to preventing the effects of aging may lie in the most unlikely (and one of the ugliest) organisms: naked mole rats.
With a maximum lifespan of about 30 years, the naked mole rat outlives all other rodents by a long shot. It lives about 10 times longer than the similarly-sized lab mouse and does not show the normal signs of aging such as dementia, menopause, and bone density loss until it's near death (humans start losing bone density in their 30s), says Rochelle Buffenstein, a physiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who has spent the past three decades studying the rodents (and admits to having 1,000 of the bald critters living in her lab). What's more, she adds, "We have never seen a single instance of cancer in the lab or in the zoos [where these animals are monitored]."

Buffenstein suspects the mole rat's secret to longevity and good health lies in its proteins. She and her colleagues recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that proteins in naked mole rat liver cells function much better than mouse liver cells after being exposed to damaging agents such as temperature changes and free radicals (unstable molecules produced by chemical reactions).
The hypothesis is that the naked mole rat is better at identifying and recycling damaged proteins:
This quality control system prevents the animals from accumulating crippled proteins throughout their lives, which is key because many aging diseases such as Alzheimer's are believed to be related to such buildups, says study co-author Asish Chaudhuri, a biochemist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The next step is to identify what exactly is responsible for the increased efficiency (i.e. which proteins are involved in the process), so that researchers can devise a way to manipulate the corresponding proteins in humans.

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