The Secrets of Ageing


Many years ago I watched a very captivating movie entitled “Lost Horizon”.

I remember vividly the beautiful scenes of a paradise called Shangri-La, where the inhabitants live in peace and tranquility, enjoy fresh air, clean water, and bountiful farms.

The most intriguing thing was, the people there hardly grew old !

How nice it would be if one can find the formula to immortality. The world’s top pharmaceutical companies will pay you millions of dollars to buy the formula.

Healthcare agencies all over the world would want you to work for them, at all costs.

In reality this is only a dream. In fact ageing-related problems are creating nightmares for many people, while medical professionals are researching for solutions and breakthroughs.

Scientists in Singapore have recently made an age-defying discovery ! They have discovered that the ageing process in certain organs in mice, such as the pancreas, liver and spleen, can be delayed by deactivating a molecule.

They found that the ageing process in the pancreas of the mice with the molecule deactivated  slowed down, compared with that of the wild mice.

The team of nine researchers have studied this for five years and found that the pancreas in a two-year-old mouse in which the molecule had been deactivated functioned like that of a three-month-old mouse. In human terms this roughly equates to a 60-year-old man having the pancreas of a 20-year-old man.

This means that diseases such as Type 2 diabetes can be controlled by inhibiting the molecule through medicine to prevent ageing in certain organs. It would take at least two years to find a treatment as more research is needed on humans.

A second team from the same agency in Singapore, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A’Star), is also working to unlock the secrets of normal ageing.

Dr Alan Colman, a stem-cell specialist from the agency has been studying Progeria, a very rare genetic condition, wherein symptoms resembling aspects of ageing are manifested at an early age. This premature ageing lead to heart problems, hardened arteries, and hair loss.

By manipulating Progeria patients’ skin cells to revert to stem cells, Dr Colman and his team hope to find out how the genetic condition affects the production of a mutant protein called progerin in these cells. Progerin is also found in healthy individuals as they age.

Dr Colman said at a recent symposium that it was a worthwhile study to see whether similarities existed between the rare disease and the normal ageing process.

In another separate study, scientists from Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet claimed to have identified the cause of premature ageing. They have linked the normal ageing process to problems with cell respiration. This is the process in which cells extract energy from the nutrients. The study showed that certain proteins become unstable and disintegrate, which in turn can impair cell respiration and cause premature ageing.

These cell respiration problems  affect the normal ageing process and may lead to many medical conditions, including diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s and genetic diseases.

What causes ageing ? This is a mystery and no one knows for sure. However people are living longer because of better healthcare, improved living environment, availability of quality and cleaner food.

Scientists may soon unravel the secrets to ageing and the solutions to prevent it.

Will we find our Shangri-La ? Is this a good thing ? Will this lead to social, ethical and other problems ?

Your comments are welcome.

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