Stories tagged aging


Naked Mole Rat: a mighty survivor both hairless and nearly blind
Naked Mole Rat: a mighty survivor both hairless and nearly blindCourtesy MissTessmacher
The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is truly one of the most remarkable animals on this earth. On average 3 inches long and weighing just over an ounce, one would not think this creature so high and mighty. However, its unusual traits have brought it under more medical scrutiny and established an ever increasing presence in research laboratories. Stories have rung for years about how the only species to survive a world Armageddon would be cockroaches and rats. My money is on the naked mole rat.

While called a rat, they are one of 37 species of mole rats globally and are more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines than other Rodentia. Limited to parts of East Africa, they spend their lives under ground in a highly social commune of individuals, all governed by a queen. This is very similar to the eusociality seen in bees and ants. The queen is the only female to breed, with all other individuals serving as guards or workers. This unusual social life for a mammal in a colony can lead to fierce competitions among females when the old queen dies. It may take days or weeks of power struggle before life in the colony returns to normal.

In search of plant tubers for sustenance, they dig through the dirt with their teeth, developing a system of burrows that can carry on for miles. One of the naked mole rats remarkable features is its ability to survive in the high carbon dioxide environments of these tunnels. Their extremely low metabolic rate and high absorption of oxygen allow them to overcome the limitations of the cramped and congested space. Research has found that these mole rats are void of a pain transmitter called Substance P found in other mammals, and have an uncanny resistance to the oxidative stress of daily metabolism.

Researchers hope this could lead to new insights into the process of aging. Captive research colonies have had individuals live as long as 28 years. That is more than nine times as long as a research mouse! This longevity and unique durability lead even more scientists to consider the naked mole rat for captive study populations in the fight against other afflictions like stroke and cancer. If these superman-like traits haven’t given you a deeper appreciation for such a tiny hairless creature, perhaps you just need a clever ditty to sing their praises. Oh! …you so UGLY!


An old Japanese guy: His secret? Hamburgers. Lots of hamburgers.
An old Japanese guy: His secret? Hamburgers. Lots of hamburgers.Courtesy isado
You heard it here first, folks, unless you heard it somewhere else already: There are a ton of really old people in Japan. And when I say really old, I mean older than 100 years old. And when I say a ton of people, I mean more than 40,000 people. Considering that the average weight for a Japanese centenarian (people over 100) is about 110-118 pounds, “a ton” is really way too small an amount. There are actually about 2,280 tons of really old people in Japan.

Although the US still blows Japan out of the water with the number of 100+ people in the country (We’re creeping up on 100,000. USA! USA!), your chances of living to be a super old dude or lady are much higher if you’ve lived your life in Japan. And people on the Japanese island of Okinawa are five times more likely to live to be 100 than even the rest of the Japanese population.

Plenty of research has been done on centenarians to isolate what factors might have allowed them to live for so long, and… the results aren’t super surprising. Certain genes are associated with long life, but so are certain diets and certain lifestyles. Basically, if you want to live to be one hundred, you should walk a lot, think a lot, poop a lot, don’t eat a lot, and hope your parents live to be one hundred. Or you could just start counting your age in dog years.

Human brain
Human brainCourtesy Wikipedia
Research coming out of the University of California shows that surfing the web is not only good for your brain but may aid in countering the natural slow-down the brain experiences from aging. With the amount of time I spend on the Internet, this could mean the aging process in my own brain has come to a complete standstill. Why don't you give your own brain a boost by going here for the full story.

A new pill to fight diabetes is going into clinical trials with human subjects. The pill targets a gene linked to aging, and could lead to advances in longevity.

Researchers at Stanford University have discovered a protein that contributes to skin aging. Then they developed a lotion that counters the protein. Then they genetically engineered a mouse to respond to the treatment. After two weeks, the skin of test mice was nice and smooth again.

Still, seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through for younger-looking mice.


Robo-feeder: A new robotic arm product -- My Spoon -- is able to allow elderly and disabled people to feed themselves without the help of another. (Photo courtesy of Secom Co.)
Robo-feeder: A new robotic arm product -- My Spoon -- is able to allow elderly and disabled people to feed themselves without the help of another. (Photo courtesy of Secom Co.)
We’ve recently had stories here about new Japanese robots doing some cool things: dancing, tasting food and identifying objects on the streets. But here’s an especially cool and practical new application for robot technology.

Secom Co. this week demonstrated its new robot product – My Spoon – which is able to feed elderly or disabled people with a mechanical arm wielding a spoon or fork. The operator needs to control a joystick, just like on a video game, to maneuver the arm to bring food to the eater’s mouth.

It’s the first application of robot technology in Japan’s increasing aging community. Other applications being discussed include robotic wheelchairs that drive themselves, remote-controlled beds and easy-entry cars.

With the feeding robot, about 300 have already been sold to be used by consumers. The cost is about $3,500 each.

And developers think there will only continue to be more need for such technological advances as older people make up a greater percentage of the population and families become more spread out geographically.

Here are some other snippets of robo-technology being proposed in Japan:

• The intelligent wheelchair uses a positioning system to automatically travel between preset destinations and uses sensors to detect obstacles or safety concerns along the way.

• A different robotic wheelchair will respond to vocal commands like “forward,” “back,” “right” or “left.”

• As an aide to caregivers, a full-body suit being developed for them to wear will assist in lifting people they need to hoist. A system of 22 air pumps will inflate the suit and provide back-up for them their lifting efforts.

However, several press accounts on these innovations report that older Japanese people are not embracing the new technology too fast. They prefer to have traditional, human-provided care. Does that surprise you? What do you think about robots providing care to the elderly and disabled?


The answer to the question posed by the title of this entry is, of course, “yes.” There are many things fruit flies can’t do: they can’t roller-skate, they can’t drink a Pepsi in under 30 seconds, and they can’t get into an argument without resorting to foul language (trust me on this). There are other things they can’t do, but these are the main ones. And, until recently, “provide clues on inhibiting aging” was also on this list, but that may have changed.

Scientists at the University of Southern California (which happens to be the anti-aging capital of the world) have discovered that a single genetic change engineered in fruit flies can extend their life spans by a third, with no apparent side effects.
My mutant power? Eternal youth.: If we could only be a little more like them.
My mutant power? Eternal youth.: If we could only be a little more like them.

The scientists found a way to block certain cell receptors (areas on cells that transmit signals across the cell membrane) associated with aging and disease. Cells were bombarded with peptides (short proteins) until the researchers found a group that would bind to the aging-receptors, blocking them. Fruit flies were then genetically engineered to produce these specific receptor-blocking peptides. I don’t really understand this part of the process, but it involves getting the peptides to replicate the same way DNA replicates by fusing these peptides to RNA. At any rate, these flies did indeed live longer.

The technique could, hopefully have applications in treating human diseases – once specific disease-related receptors were located, scientists could go through their library of peptides until a group was found that bonds to the receptors. Some of us maintain hope, also, that our DNA might be altered so that it reproduces not just receptor-blocking peptides, but rad things like fireballs and adamantium claws. Scientists have odd priorities, though.

Fruit flies with mutant healing powers.

I'm recommending this New York Times article about turtles and their amazing abilities to withstand adversity. They can go without food and water for months at a time, their armored bodies can withstand the impact of a stampeding wildebeast, and they're among the longest-living creatures on Earth. And they don't succumb to old age: if they didn't get eaten, smashed by cars, or pick up diseases, they just might live indefinitely. But for all that, at least half of all turtle species are in trouble, and some of them may be extinct within the next decade.


A researcher in Colorado has produced a pill which may be able to fight a wide range of diseases, and even combat the effects of aging. The pill, called Protandim, has not yet been tested against any disease. All we know so far is that it boosts the body's ability to produce two important enzymes: Catalase and SOD.

Other researchers have found that these two enzymes helped mice live longer and heal faster. They do this by cleaning up "free radicals." Free radicals are oxygen-based molecules your body produces naturally every time you eat. Unfortunately, these molecules also damage cells, and are associated with aging and various diseases. Your body produces the enzymes Catalase and SOD to clean up the radicals. But as we grow older, we accumulate more radicals than our body can handle.

Right now, no one knows if extra enzymes will have a great positive effect on people. But it does seem to be a promising line of research.