Age Wave: Beating Your Genes -- Research Summary
BACKGROUND: While our fate may be in our DNA, tricking DNA may be one way to extend life. Last year, researchers at the University of Washington found a group of genes that appeared to affect the lifespan of roundworms. The genes influence length of life through a process called hypoxic response, which is a biological defense against low-oxygen environments. By tweaking the gene to have the hypoxic response on at all times, the worms lived longer and healthier lives. The scientists believe the hypoxic response may encourage cells to metabolize more glucose and increase the body's resistance to stress.
TELOMERES: SIGNS OF AGING: New science shows the aging process may actually make a physical mark on your DNA. The length of telomeres -- protective caps on the ends of chromosomes -- is increasingly seen as a marker for biological age, or aging's effect on the body. Every time our cells divide, telomeres shrink. When they get short enough, cells stop dividing and the body stops making those cells. One study showed telomere length can actually be a predictor of death risk in humans. Other research followed patients with coronary-artery disease and found those with high blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids experienced less telomere shortening over five years.
The pharmaceutical industry has already latched on to discoveries about the importance of telomeres. A New York-based company called T. A. Sciences markets a supplement in pill form that they claim stops telomeres from shortening and thus halts the aging process. The supplement -- called TA-65 -- is made from extracts of the Chinese herb astragalus. The company claims TA-65 "turns on" the enzyme telomerase, which maintains or lengthens telomeres (Source: Scientific American).
SECRETS OF THE EPIGENOME: The body's aging process may have less to do with DNA destiny and more to do with a layer of chemical reactions that turn genes on and off called the "epigenome." Over the past few years, scientists have learned more about the reactions and how they play a big part in health and heredity. The epigenome changes according to a person's environment but is also passed from generation to generation. By mapping the epigenome with genomic and health information, scientists hope to develop better ways to predict, diagnose and treat disease. So far, the most promising application is in cancer treatment. In fact, the FDA approved the first epigenetic drug in 2004. Called azacitidine, it treats a form of leukemia by reactivating tumor-suppressing genes (Source: Wired Magazine).
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Dr. Emile Mohler