Or, we could if experiments done in flatworms translated directly to humans. If you haven’t read about James McConnell’s experiments with Planarians and memory transfer, I urge you to do so, if only just for the opportunity to read science writing that sounds as if it was ripped directly from the pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It also turns out that their blood is carrying some youthful factor that we want as well. The trouble is getting it out of them and into us. One might immediately think of vampires – which is not a bad place to start, but it might require a bit of refinement.
Science magazine from 9 May 2014 informs us that there is something soluble in the blood of young mice that, when transferred to older mice – well, to put it simply, it rejuvenates them. “The therapeutic implications are profound if this mechanism holds true in people,” says Matt Kaeberlein in the News and Analysis summary accompanying the article.
This article captured my interest and made me want to write about it for several reasons. First, this is effectively a ‘Fountain of Youth’ experiment – and it seems to work! Researchers have long wondered: what keeps the young, young and makes the old, old? What changes as we age? Can we stop it? Reverse it?
In terms of ethics, should we even be looking at age as a disease? Or is it just something that happens and needs to be accepted?
Most notably, work has been done to show that telomere length and the enzymes that maintain it, may be intimately involved in the aging process. Telomeres are sections of non-coding DNA at the very ends of chromosomes that consist of a number of sequence repeats. The thinking is that these DNA elements are maintained (by telomerase) in order to prevent the chromosomes from getting attacked and destroyed by nuclease enzymes. I think the Ponds Institute has been working on this for years 🙂
The other interesting thing about this work is the technique that gave us the data in support of this hypothesis. It’s a fantastic experiment called parabiosis. From the Greek you can see that this ‘living with one another’ experiment involves making artificial siamese twins of two mice, an old one and a young one.
I hope to be able to discuss this procedure in some detail in upcoming posts. But, until then, let us be satisfied that the technique was done. This now permits the intermingling of soluble blood products between one (clonal) mouse and another. When it’s done, something, crosses from one animal to the other. This provides cellular cues to the fact that something from this young mouse has been lost in older mice, but if it could be restored, it would result in (at least some) regeneration of youth.
– I’ll come back and revisit this more in the future to explain what has actually been observed and also to discuss some other interesting experiments carried out using this parabiosis technique. Right now I’m falling asleep and violating a new family rule on computer time to boot!