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Partial Reversal of Aging Achieved in Mice

Here's the big news from yesterday. Wow! Regeneration of cells, no higher incidence of cancer. Rejuvenation of the brain and testes was achieved as well:

"When we flipped the telomerase switch on and looked a month later, the brains had largely returned to normal," said DePinho. More newborn nerve cells were observed, and the fatty myelin sheaths around nerve cells -- which had become thinned in the aged animals -- increased in diameter. In addition, the increase in telomerase revitalized slumbering brain stem cells so they could produce new neurons.

To show that all this new activity actually caused functional improvements, the scientists tested the mice's ability to avoid a certain area where they detected unpleasant odors that they associated with danger, such as scents of predators or rotten food. They had lost that survival skill as their olfactory nerve cells atrophied, but after the telomerase boost, those nerves regenerated and the mice regained their crucial sense of smell.

"One of the most amazing changes was in the animals' testes, which were essentially barren as aging caused the death and elimination of sperm cells," recounted DePinho. "When we restored telomerase, the testes produced new sperm cells, and the animals'  fecundity was improved -- their mates gave birth to larger litters.

I wonder if there will be any critics out there that still think radical human life extension is infeasible after reading about this.

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  1. Unfortunately, this study involved mice that had been genetically engineered to under-express telomerase. Basically, they created telomerase-deficient mice, let them age prematurely, then boosted their telomerase levels. What they found was that restoring telomerase to normal undid some of the damage the mice had accumulated.

    To quote the article, “Whether this would impact on normal aging is a more difficult question.” It’s interesting work, but probably more relevant to treating progeria than to life extension.

  2. “The telomerase boost also lengthened the rodents’ life spans compared to their untreated counterparts — but they did not live longer than normal mice, said the researchers”

    If were talking about life extension then I’m cautiously optimistic but less than impressed.

    If we’re talking about keeping people healthy into their old age than this is pretty incredible though I say that with a fair amount of caveats. As stated in the article there seems to be a trade off between greater life span and an increased risk of cancer when it comes to telomeres. The same thing was found in people with a large amount of moles. That’s a serious problem if we envision this as a way to combat age related illness.

  3. If they hadn’t sabotaged the mice so that they exhibited ageing-like pathologies, the “repair” would have been far more impressive.

    To quote the linked page:
    “By creating mice with a telomerase switch, the researchers were able to generate prematurely aged mice. The switch allowed the scientists to find out whether reactivating telomerase in the animals would restore telomeres and mitigate the signs and symptoms of aging.”

    The assumption is that these were “prematurely aged mice”. Did the mice age in all ways?

  4. If we could cure aging at the cost of a greatly increased risk of cancer, I think that would be a raging success. Cancer seems a hell of a lot more tractable.

  5. Despite the premature aging, I thought it was still interesting and a first, but I understand the skepticism. Has this sort of rejuvenation ever been demonstrated before?

  6. Michael, how do you reconcile your veganistic principles with animal experimentation (mice in this case)? Can the end ever justify the means – especially when horrendous cruelty is often involved?

    I’m not attacking you or being sarcastic (although I do think there’s a contradiction here).

    I do consider this to be a moral dilemma and would be interested to hear your response.

    • This is where many vegetarians and vegans become fuzzy about their principles.

      As a vegetarian myself (based on compassionate grounds) I feel I would be a hypocrite to approve animal experimentation while bemoaning the horrors of factory farming.

      I recognize the medical benefits such experimentation has bestowed on mankind. But I also see that those benefits are based on the untold blood and suffering of countless animals.

      Our species has improved itself with cruelty. Will it continue to do so? Call me a bunny hugger if you like, but that’s the raw truth.

      Once you’ve reached whatever your goal is, can you gloss over the brutal means used to achieve it?

      This is not irrelevant to this article – it’s blithely talking about living creatures being regarded as mere experimental tissue, objects or things.

      I’m somewhat confused Michael, that the only thing you took from this is how it would serve life extension and/or transhumanist ends, not the indifferent attitude towards the animals used like inanimate objects.

      Especially after you posted this:

  7. There is certainly a contradiction. Inflicting pain on animals is fundamentally evil. But sometimes I just study the data and judge whether it’s significant without making moral judgments. I already insert personal moral judgments into my posts to a degree that exceeds practically any other blog in the H+ webspace.

    My preferred route to indefinite lifespan, and I think a necessary one, is Friendly AI, which requires no animal experimentation.

    Animal experimentation makes me sad, but I should be able to post on it once in a while without bemoaning it, especially given that I’m in the 99.9th percentile of achievement when it comes to bemoaning animal suffering.

    My attitude for a long time is that all we need is Friendly AI or possibly human intelligence enhancement, and everything else is fundamentally a distraction. But, I didn’t get to 100,000+ visits/month repeating that same line again and again.

    People get exhausted and call me a cultist when I constantly shove a sign in the air that says, “We Need Friendly AI Now, and All Of Mankind’s Resources Should Be Devoted to That Immediately”.

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