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Fountain of youth?

New study finds way to reverse the signs of aging in mice

Fountain of youth?

Gene-editing scientists reversed wrinkles and hair loss in mice in a new study published last week in the journal Cell Death & Disease. The results have scientists asking if gene editing is the way to reverse the effects of aging—at least on the surface.

Over the course of two months, scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham added a gene mutation to the diet of adult mice, kick-starting a mitochondrial DNA depletion. Mitochondria is the engine of the cell that converts food to energy. Over time, mitochondrial DNA depletes and the engine slows down, causing aging or age-associated disease.

Scientists added the mutation by dosing the animals’ water with the antibiotic doxycycline, which caused the enzyme replicating the DNA to become inactive, so the mitochondrial DNA decreased. By week four, the mice developed aging symptoms: thick wrinkles; gray, thinning hair; slower movements; and smaller sizes. By day 40, half of the mice had died due to the mitochondrial dysfunction.

Then the scientists stopped the dosage, switching off the gene responsible for the mutation, and the animals’ symptoms reversed until they were indistinguishable from healthy mice with thick fur and smooth skin.

The scientists suggested their findings should be used for developing drugs that boost mitochondria “for the treatment of aging-associated skin and hair pathology and other human diseases in which mitochondrial dysfunction plays a significant role,” said study co-author Keshav Singh.

But the researchers did not test the internal organs and instead focused on cosmetic changes like hair and skin, Singh said in an interview with the National Post in Canada.

Scientists may find a way to rid the human race of wrinkles and balding by dosing drinking water, but could gene-editing drugs introduce a plethora of unintended consequences beyond the reach of reversal?

Starting early

Fatal liver disease is on the rise in the United States, and the sharpest spike is found among young people.

U.S. deaths from cirrhosis of the liver increased by 65 percent from 1999 to 2016, according to a study published last week in the British Medical Journal. Deaths from liver cancer doubled. The highest average annual increase over those years—10.5 percent—was in people ages 25 to 34, and was driven entirely by alcohol-related liver disease. The increase comes as rates of binge drinking are also on the rise.

“What's happening with young people is dismaying to say the least,” Elliot Tapper, co-author of the study and a liver specialist at the University of Michigan, told NPR. Tapper said young people are showing up in his hospital and clinic every day with alcoholic liver disease. Researchers previously believed the condition primarily affected people after 30 years of heavy alcohol consumption, according to Mayo Clinic expert Vijay Shah.

The good news is that cirrhosis is often reversible: The liver sometimes repairs itself with reduced alcohol consumption.

“I've had patients who came to me in a wheelchair,” Tapper said. “Three months later, they're shoveling snow and their lab tests are normal. It's always because they made that choice to stop drinking.”

The deeper problem, Tapper suggested, is that due to alcohol addiction, many don’t make that choice. —Kiley Crossland

Not so fast

Results released last week for an experimental drug to slow Alzheimer’s disease raised high hopes (and stock prices), but it turned out to be another idea that needs more study. Headlines repeated claims from the drug’s makers, Eisai and Biogen, that it slowed mental decline by 30 percent, removing much of the sticky plaque in the brain that may cause the dementia, in patients who received the highest dose.

Receiving far less attention were the caveats: The study size was too small to be definitive and the researchers—company scientists whose work was not reviewed by outside experts—measured mental decline using a novel scale that combined parts of three other common measures. Two days after the results were released, stock prices for the two drug companies tumbled.

The therapy is intended only to slow, not cure, the disease. Still, the results could indicate that “we may be on the right track,” said Stephen Salloway, neurology chief at Brown University and a scientist with no role in the study. —Les Sillars

Frozen chosen

Russian scientists revived two roundworms they claim were frozen in the Siberian permafrost for 32,000 and 41,700 years, respectively, according to a study released last week. “We have obtained the first data demonstrating the capability of multicellular organisms for longterm cryobiosis,” the team of researchers from Moscow State University and other schools wrote.

They put 300 nematodes in petri dishes and warmed them to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. When thawed, two of them started to move and eat. The finding indicates that these worms have “some adaptive mechanisms” that have implications for cryobiology (the study of the effects of low temperatures on organisms), and astrobiology. Some experts have suggested the worm study could further cryonics, the practice of freezing human and animal cadavers so they can be revived later. —L.S

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a former political reporter for WORLD’s Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate.


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