Fountain of Youth
It turns out
the gym rats were right – it’s all about the protein. Maybe not anything found in our energy bars,
supplements or shakes, but rather the protein found in our biological
makeup. A research team at the Mayo
Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota hasn’t necessarily found the key to eternal
youth, but they seem to have taken some steps in the fight to slow down the
aging process – among other things. A recent
article from ScienceNOW chronicled
the unexpected outcome of a cancer study approximately ten years in the making.
Jan van Deursen and the other researchers of the Mayo Clinic searched for a
link between cancer and aneuploidy, a common quality in cancerous cells
characterized by either a shortage or an excess of chromosomes. The article
went on to note, “Nearly all cancer cells fall into this category, but it’s not
clear whether aneuploidy actually causes cancer.” In the study, mice were genetically engineered
“to produce less BubR1, a protein that helps cells segregate their chromosomes
when they divide,” by van Deursen and Darren Baker, a graduate student at the
time. The experiment being whether or not the mice would develop cancer as their
cells divided and more were produced with an incorrect number of chromosomes. The
outcome, however, was not anticipated.
“These mice were
clearly very, very different than a normal mouse,” says Baker, now studying the
biology of aging at the Mayo Clinic.
The lack of
the BubR1 protein caused the mice to age rapidly – similar to a rare human
disease, mosaic variegated aneuploidy syndrome (MVAS), a disease in which patients
“age prematurely and have an elevated risk of cancer.” On the flip side, mice genetically engineered
to produce more BubR1 were superior overall – every one of the normal mice exposed
to tumor-causing chemicals developed cancer, compared to only 33 percent of the
mice producing BubR1 in excess. Over-producing
mice also lived longer (15 percent on average) and ran longer (200 meters
compared to 100 meters) than the control group.
article cited the effect of BubR1 as the “first step on a long path toward new
treatments that delay aging,” as well as noting the protein as a prospect in
cancer-prevention, while the potential impact of BubR1 research on patients
with MVAS seemed glossed over in contrast. Have we simply found the fountain of youth, or will our DNA – with both
its hidden gems like BubR1 as well as its natural imperfections – become a bona
fide cure-all as genetic research comes to the forefront of the industry?