This experiment which has been reported on the biorxiv.org website and which is yet to be peer-reviewed, is very exciting because on my estimation using the data provided by The Times newspaper, it concerns a drug which may extend life by about 7% in humans and make the elderly less frail. How did I work that out? Read on please.
In this experiment, researchers injected mice that were 124 weeks old. This they say is the equivalent to humans in their late 70s (say 78). On that basis I decided that each week of mouse life is equivalent of about 0.6 years in human life.
They found that when they injected mice with a virus which had been modified to carry additional pieces of genetic code it allowed the cells of the mice to produce a set of proteins known as ‘Yamanaka factors’. These proteins have been used since the mid-2000s to coax individual cells to return to a younger embryonic state.
They found that mice which received the treatment lived for another 18 weeks whereas those that didn’t i.e. the control group lived for a further nine weeks. That is a benefit of nine weeks. As the normal lifespan of the tested mice was normally 124+9 weeks making 133 and as the drug added 9 weeks, this represents an increase in age of about 7 per cent.
The technology is obviously very technical and the Infographic explains what I have gleaned from The Times newspaper today. The results are said to be intriguing. Dr. Ildem Akerman, associate professor in functional genomics at Birmingham University said the study was “potentially very exciting”. He added that “Reversal of ageing in an entire animal with the use of gene programming has not been achieved before.”
Prof Ilaria Bellantuono, co-director of the healthy lifespan institute at Sheffield University, was particularly interested in the fact that the treatment indicated that the mice became less physically frail. He added: “Patients with frailty are at increased risk of hospitalisation, take longer to recover and often lose [their] independence”.
Clearly, preventing frailty even a small number of people and to a limited degree might dramatically ease the burden upon the NHS in the UK and other healthcare systems elsewhere.
Prof Ilaria Bellantuono added: “The changes in frailty seen in this study are compatible with a potentially meaningful change.”
Finally, do people really want to live about 7% longer? Why are tests being done to see how we can extend human life? There’s an argument that we shouldn’t be extending human life but making life more enjoyable while we are alive. But that is another philosophical question. Obviously, such a drug would be very commercially profitable to big pharma. That must be the driving force. I think people should be consulted though.
One last point: I hate animal testing. Horrible and for me unjustified. Personal view.