Biologists have discovered the key mechanism that causes aging. They are confident that the process can be slowed down or even reversed.
Apparently, the deterioration of a particular set of tightly packed bundles of DNA are responsible for our normal cell functioning. This process largely governs how fast or slow we age. Scientists feel they might be able to manipulate the rate of the degeneration or even reverse it, thereby unlocking some radical new treatments to treat age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and perhaps offering a “fountain of youth.”
It was while studying the underlying causes of Werner syndrome – a genetic disorder that causes affected individuals to age more rapidly than normal – that researchers from the Salk Institute in the U.S and the Chinese Academy of Science made the astonishing and groundbreaking discovery.
People with Werner syndrome contract diseases which are typically reserved for the elderly in their youth. Suffering from cataracts, type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, these unfortunate souls have a very short lifespan and typically die between the ages of 40 and 50.
After investigating such cases the scientists zeroed in on the very specific densely clustered bundle of DNA – known as heterochromatin – that was responsible for the genetic mutations. Once destabilized, this particular set of DNA severely disrupted normal cellular functions and caused them to age and die quite prematurely. In other words, once heterochromatin was destabilized, people would age dramatically, wither away, and die, stated senior researcher Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, from the Salk Institute.
“This disruption of normal DNA packaging is a key driver of aging. This has implications beyond Werner syndrome, as it identifies a central mechanism of aging – heterochromatin disorganization — which has been shown to be reversible.”
Digging deeper, the researchers discovered that even the mutant WRN gene produces a protein, which helps maintain the structure and integrity of a person’s DNA. However, if the protein is dysfunctional, people suffer from Werner syndrome. In simpler terms, the rogue protein significantly disrupts the replication and repair of DNA, thereby aging the entire human body.
The researchers were also to conclusively prove that the DNA strands are present in all humans, not just those who suffer from Werner syndrome. Though the team is quick to admit that a lot of additional research is required to fully understand the role that this DNA breakdown plays in ageing, they are confident they are on the right track of keeping aging people healthy and young people squarely rooted in their youthful years.
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