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July 23, 2010

Expert panel advocates immediate action plan to avert aging tsunami

Expert panel advocates immediate action plan to avert aging tsunami

A panel of 10 luminaries in the field of gerontology, including Aubrey de Grey, Caleb Finch and Jan Vijg, convened to urge the translation of recent findings in the field of aging into therapeutic agents that can benefit the world's growing population of older individuals. Their report was published in the July 14, 2010 issue of the American Association for the Advancement of Science journal Science Translational Medicine.

In the introduction to their article, the authors note that age is the greatest risk factor for the majority of chronic diseases in the western world, and is of increasing significance in the developing world as well. Functionality decreases with age while disease incidence increases, and mortality rates double approximately every 7 to 8 years following puberty. These phenomena are attributable to the accumulation of damaging changes in the body that occur at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels due to the effects of normal metabolism as well as environmental causes and unhealthy lifestyles.

In order to prevent a global aging crisis caused by a greater proportion of older individuals and the resulting increases in medical costs and social challenges, the panel advocates the collaboration of a number of countries in an international initiative to translate laboratory findings on aging into pharmaceutical agents that will improve the lives of older men and women.

"We propose a global biological aging research agenda focused on the detailed understanding of the following overlapping core age changes and developing therapies for decelerating, arresting, and reversing them: (i) the loss of proliferative homeostasis, (ii) neurodegeneration, (iii) somatic mutations in both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, (iv) nonadaptive alterations in gene expression, (v) immunosenescence, (vi) nonadaptive inflammation, and (vii) alterations of the extracellular milieu," the authors write. "To ameliorate age-related changes, we identify three broad modes of intervention that should be exploited in addition to ongoing conventional, disease-centered medical innovation: (i) reduction in exposure to environmental toxins and amelioration of other risk factors through improved public health; (ii) modulation of metabolic pathways contributing to age-related changes; and (iii) a more broadly conceived regenerative medicine, to embrace the repair, removal, or replacement of existing aging damage or its decoupling from its pathological sequelae."

"There is this misunderstanding that aging is something that just happens to you, like the weather, and cannot be influenced," remarked Dr Vijg, who is chair of genetics and the Lola and Saul Kramer Chair in Molecular Genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. "The big surprise of the last decade is that, in many different animals, we can increase healthy life span in various ways. A program of developing and testing similar interventions in humans would make both medical and economic sense."

"In the case of late-life intervention in human age-related degeneration, what we can be certain of today is that a policy of aging as usual will lead to enormous humanitarian, social and financial costs," the authors conclude. "To realize any chance of success, the drive to tackle biological aging head-on must begin now."

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Prevention

It used to be thought that little could be done to postpone what nature has in store for us. Today, a growing scientific consensus indicates that individuals possess a great deal of control over how long they are going to live and what their state of health will be.

Mainstream medicine has relied on simple measures of preventing disease, such as controlling hypertension, yet many doctors are coming to the realization that additional steps can be taken to protect against premature aging and death.

The premise of taking actions to maintain youthful health and vigor is based on findings from peer-reviewed scientific studies that identify specific factors that cause us to develop degenerative disease. These studies suggest that the consumption of certain foods, food extracts, hormones, or drugs will help to prevent common diseases that are associated with normal aging.

The National Academy of Sciences published three reports showing that the effects of aging may be partially reversible with a combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid (Hagen et al. 2002). One of these studies showed that supplementation with these two nutrients resulted in a partial reversal of the decline of mitochondrial membrane function while consumption of oxygen significantly increased. This study demonstrated that the combination of acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid improved ambulatory activity, with a significantly greater degree of improvement in the old rats compared to the young ones. Human aging is characterized by lethargy, infirmity, and weakness. There is now evidence that supplementation with two over-the-counter supplements can produce a measurable antiaging effect.

The second study published by the National Academy of Sciences showed that supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid resulted in improved memory in old rats. Electron microscopic studies in the hippocampus region of the brain showed that acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid reversed age-associated mitochondrial structural decay. In the third National Academy of Sciences study, scientists tested acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid to see if an enzyme used by the mitochondria as biologic fuel could be restored in old rats. After 7 weeks of supplementation with acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid, levels of this enzyme (carnitine acetyl-transferase) were significantly restored in the aged rats. Supplementation also inhibited free radical-induced lipid peroxidation, which enhanced the activity of the energy-producing enzyme in the mitochondria. The scientists concluded that feeding old rats acetyl-L-carnitine and lipoic acid can ameliorate oxidative damage, along with mitochondrial dysfunction.

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