Study: Pioglitazone halts progression to type 2 diabetes

In a new study, pioglitazone reduced the risk for progression from impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes by 72% as compared with placebo. However, the drug was linked to significant edema and weight gain.

Ralph A. DeFronzo, MD, and colleagues recruited 602 adults with IGT to study whether pioglitazone (Actos, Takeda) could reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes. Patients were randomly assigned to pioglitazone, at 30 mg per day and increased to 45 mg per day after 1 month, or placebo for a mean 2.4 years.

After follow-up, the pioglitazone group had an annual incidence rate for type 2 diabetes of 2.1% vs. the placebo group’s 7.6%. The researchers calculated a hazard Continue reading

Lab Grown Sperm Could Cure Male Infertility, Experts Say

Sperm penetrating an ovum during fertilization.

Wikipedia Sperm penetrating an ovum during fertilization.

Sperm has been successfully grown in a test tube for the first time, a breakthrough technology that could eventually help cure male infertility, Japanese scientists said Thursday.

In the experiment, researchers at Yokohama City University were able to produce healthy, fertile offspring using the laboratory created sperm. Their findings can be found in the journal Nature.

“Until now, none of the attempts have been wholly successful, and when the sperm have been used, the pups born have not been healthy and have soon died,” said Dr. Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, in northern England.

The next step is to reproduce the technique in humans as the technology will give new hope to men with low sperm counts or abnormal sperm.

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Best Places to Work Postdocs, 2011

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Epigenetic Changes in Cancer

Lung cancer close-up MOREDUN ANIMAL HEALTH LTD/SPL / Gettyimages

The study of how covalent marks on DNA and histones are involved in the origin and spread of cancer cells
is also leading to new therapeutic strategies.

Much of the current hype in epigenetics stems from the recognition of its role in human cancer. Yet, intriguingly, the first epigenetic change in human tumors—global genomic DNA hypomethylation—was reported way back in the early 1980s, at about the same time the first genetic mutation in an oncogene was discovered.1 So why the delay in recognizing the importance of epigenetics in cancer?

In the 1980s epigenetics was a fledgling discipline, hampered by methodological limitations, while genetic knowledge of Continue reading

Should premature babies born at 23 weeks be resuscitated?

Premature babies born at 23 weeks should not be resuscitated because their chances of surviving are so slim, according to an NHS official.

Dr Daphne Austin explains her logic on BBC Radio 5 live: “There is sufficient evidence to suggest that we’re [currently] doing more harm than good.

“Are we confident that we are providing the care that they need right through?” Dr Austin asks presenter Victoria Derbyshire.

“We need to have a better debate about this.”

Big Human Genome lupus drug nears market

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Human Genome Sciences Inc’s lupus drug is poised to win clearance this week, offering patients the first approved treatment option in a half-century and setting the company up for blockbuster sales.

Industry analysts widely expect Benlysta, one the most closely watched medicines of the year, to secure the Food and Drug Administration’s blessing by Thursday.

Annual global sales may top $3 billion in 2015, according to Thomson Reuters consensus forecasts. The company will split Benlysta profits with British partner GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

The drug’s approval will turn Human Genome from money-losing biotech to an industry star and takeover target.

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Scientists link 13 new gene regions to heart disease risk

In what may be the largest global investigation of its kind, scientists have implicated 13 new gene regions in the onset of heart vessel plaque build-up, a condition that often leads to fatal heart attacks.

The discovery doubles the number of gene regions linked to the development of coronary atherosclerosis, which the authors note is the most common cause of death globally.

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Electrical Brain Activity May Spot Autism Risk

Study Shows Computer Analysis of Brain Activity Helps Predict Autism Risk for Infants

Feb. 22, 2011 — Combining a standard noninvasive test that measures electrical activity in the brain with a high-tech computer analysis may help determine the risk of autism spectrum disorder in infants, according to a new study.

In the study, a computer program that assists in evaluating brainwave data from an electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to determine the way nerve cells communicate with one another in infants. Using the data generated, researchers were able to predict which 9-month-old infants have a high risk of autism with 80% accuracy.

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Hearing loss may be an early sign of dementia

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but in some people it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but in some people it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.

Gradual hearing loss is a common symptom of aging, but in some people it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, a new study suggests.

The risk of dementia appears to rise as hearing declines. Older people with mild hearing impairment — those who have difficulty following a conversation in a crowded restaurant, say — were nearly twice as likely as those with normal hearing to develop dementia, the study found. Severe hearing loss nearly quintupled the risk of dementia. 25 signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s unclear why the loss of hearing and mental function might go hand in hand. Brain abnormalities may contribute independently to both conditions, but it’s also possible that hearing problems can help bring on dementia, the researchers say. Hearing loss may lead to social isolation (which itself has been linked to dementia), for instance, or it may interfere with the brain’s division of labor.

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Success of Spina Bifida Study Opens Fetal Surgery Door

For years, surgeons have been trying to find ways of operating on babies in the womb, reasoning that medical abnormalities might be more easily fixed while a fetus is still developing.

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The Skin Gun

Scientists have invented a ballistic new way to treat burns and skin abrasions – shoot them with a stem cell gun. The gun – a sterile syringe that loads into a spraying nozzle – releases a patient’s own stem cells, generated from a piece of healthy skin, which can immediately begin repairing the skin.

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Largest animal genome discovered

Wikimedia commons, Paul Hebert

Scientists have sequenced the entire genome of Daphnia pulex, a small crustacean commonly used as a model organism for basic biological function studies, and revealed the largest number of genes of any animal genome. The paper, published last week in Science, reports that Daphnia has a total of 30,907 genes, significantly more than the 23,000 estimated human genes.

Pfizer cuts R&D

Pfizer announce last week that it will cut some 20 percent of its R&D expenditure, from $8.5 million to $7 million, sometime next year. The pharmaceutical company also plans to shut down a UK research facility that currently employs 2,400 people and to drastically reduce staff in its Connecticut research center, according to ScienceInsider, although it may increase its Massachusetts workforce by several hundred.

While the news has come as a surprise to many, GlaxoSmithKlein’s chief executive Andrew Witty indicated that Pfizer’s loss may be GSK’s gain. “We absolutely will look at… high calibre people, talented people there,” Witty told The Telegraph. “There may be some people who want to come here…and of course we’ll look at that.”

90 retractions coming?

Nearly 100 papers might be pulled from the literature because they didn’t receive proper institutional approval, according to Retraction Watch. Joachim Boldt, former head of anesthesia at the Klinikum Ludwigshafen in Germany, was fired last year after suspicions were raised about one 2009 Anesthesia & Analgesia paper that appeared to be based on research that hadn’t taken place. But last week an ongoing investigation by Klinikum Ludwigshafen and the German state medical association of Rheinland Pfalz announced that as many as 90 studies failed to get proper institutional approval — grounds for the immediate retraction of an article, according to a letter from the editors of 11 journals. (Hat tip to ScienceInsider)

News in a nutshell

Vaccines prevent cancer?

Some vaccinations routinely given to children, such as those for hepatitis B and polio, may lower the risk of certain cancers, like leukemia. Comparing 2,800 cases of childhood cancer in Texas to more than 10,000 healthy individuals, researchers found that children born in counties where the hep B vaccine was common were 20 percent less likely to develop cancer. Similarly, kids born in areas where children are typically vaccinated for both the polio and hep B were 30 to 40 percent less likely to contract the disease, according to a new study published last week in the Journal of Pediatrics. Though some parents choose against vaccinating their children because they believe the shots can cause autism, “people can take a step back and really look at the benefit that vaccines provide — not just for the infectious diseases they were intended to prevent,” study author Michael Scheurer of Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, told Reuters. (Hat tip to FierceVaccines)

Flickr, Blake Patterson

Reversing diabetes is possible

For more information on diabetes watch this weekend’s special edition of “SGMD“: “Diabetes 20/20,” Saturday-Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET

"It was a big wake-up call, that what I was doing and my current weight were not OK," Jonathan Legg said.

Bethesda, Maryland (CNN) — When Jonathan Legg of Bethesda, Maryland, got a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes at 39, he was shocked.

“I had always been pretty active,” said Legg. “But it was a big wake-up call, that what I was doing and my current weight were not OK.”

That was two years ago. Since that time, the Morgan Stanley executive decided to make some changes and reverse his diabetes. Although his doctor recommended he go on medication to control his illness, Legg took a different approach. Instead of meds, he began to exercise every day and changed his diet, cutting out alcohol, fatty foods and watching his carbs. Continue reading

The Health Care Repeal Can Really Hurt Medicare And Baby Boomers

On Thursday, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives sent up a trial balloon about privatizing Medicare. For those of us with short attention spans, minimal cuts to Medicare, in order to finance the Democrat-backed health care reform bill, were one of the reasons Republicans regained control of the House. Democratic candidates were absolutely pilloried over this during the last election cycle. Under the proposed Republican plan, future Medicare recipients would receive a voucher with which to purchase private insurance. There would be no regulatory apparatus in place to control the costs of this insurance, guaranteeing an unimpeded upward spiral of premium costs. This means that those elder Americans who are on fixed incomes would be faced with increasingly rationed health care, because even as premiums continued to rise, the amount of the vouchers would remain fixed.

New Set Of Cuts

If per-capita growth in Medicare rates exceeds targets, the board would propose reductions that would have to be adopted unless Congress found another set of cuts or if both houses of Congress, including a three-fifths majority in the Senate, overrode the board’s decision. Medicare hospital rates would initially not be subject to board decisions, but chairman of the recent federal deficit commission proposed including hospitals from the start.

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Study ties hot flashes to lower breast cancer risk

Here’s some good news for women ever bothered by hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms: Your risk for breast cancer may be reduced as much as 50%, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle report.

“We know that hormones are important to breast cancer risk, and we also know that menopausal symptoms occur primarily because of changes in hormones that women experience as they go through menopause,” said lead author and breast cancer epidemiologist Dr. Christopher I. Li.

Now, for the first time, he said researchers looked at the relationship between menopause symptoms and breast cancer risk.

“If we can confirm this finding, it may be somewhat of a silver lining for women who experience menopausal symptoms, because they can often really reduce a woman’s quality of life,” he said.

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“Artificial pancreas” shows promise in pregnancy

(Reuters) – Scientists have shown how an “artificial pancreas” can help pregnant women with type 1 diabetes and say their finding could significantly reduce cases of stillbirth and death among diabetic expectant mothers.

British researchers used a so-called “closed-loop insulin delivery system” or artificial pancreas, in 10 pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes and found it provided the right amount of insulin at the right time, maintained near normal blood sugar, and prevented dangerous drops in blood sugar levels at night.

“To discover an artificial pancreas can help maintain near-normal glucose levels in these women is very promising,” said Helen Murphy of Cambridge University, who led the study.

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Breast implants and ‘possible link’ to rare cancer — surgeon associations respond

The FDA will set up a registry to track women with breast implants.

The FDA will set up a registry to track women with breast implants. (Donna McWilliam / Associated Press)

You’ve no doubt heard about the Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of the “possible association” between breast implants and a rare form of cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL. And you’ve heard the media reaction (and possibly concerned friends or relatives or coworkers or…) Now let’s hear from the folks who implant those implants.

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery had this to say in a statement released Friday. “Due to the extremely low incidence and some conflicting evidence, the FDA is recommending routine medical care and follow-up for women with breast implants. [The organization] agrees with the FDA recommendations and hopes that this report does not produce undue panic from the millions of women who have breast implants. Many ongoing studies will eventually find a more definitive conclusion…”

RELATED: What is anaplastic large cell lymphoma?

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons said it’s forming a breast implant registry in collaboration with the FDA. It also says on its website: “The ASPS and the FDA agree this extremely rare form of lymphoma is not breast cancer. Of the estimated 10 million implants worldwide, only 34 cases of ALCL have been identified since 1989. While lymphomas can appear anywhere in the body, this condition appears in the scar tissue that forms around the breast implants. At this time, both the FDA and ASPS remain confident that breast implants are safe and effective.”

And the FDA has a Web page keeping women with implants up to date.

Perhaps all that’s left are the results of an actual investigation.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Starting HRT early raises breast cancer risk: study

(Reuters) – Women who start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as they begin to go through menopause have a higher risk of breast cancer than women who start taking the drugs later, researchers reported on Friday.

The findings, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, help answer lingering questions about just who is and who is not at greater risk of side-effects from taking HRT.

The study of more than 1 million British women showed that those who waited five years or more to take HRT had little or no increased risk of breast cancer. But those who started it as they entered menopause had a 43 percent higher risk.

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Q&A: Alzheimer’s trial disconnect

While preclinical studies identify ways to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in animals, human trials test these same therapies in symptomatic patients — long after they are most likely to be effective

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a growing threat that currently afflicts some 35 million people worldwide. Without the advent of preventive therapies, the neurodegenerative disease will strike as many as 100 million people by 2050. And while laboratory studies in animal models of AD continue to uncover promising avenues for disease prevention, clinical trials in humans target patients who are already showing signs of neural degeneration.

Image: Wikimedia commons, Alzheimer Forschung Initiative e.V.

Disease biologist Todd Golde of University of Florida College of Medicine talked to The Scientist about this disconnect, its consequences, and possible solutions to the problem — the topic of an opinion piece he co-authored, published online today (January 26) in Neuron.
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10 major advances in heart disease in 2010

Heart doctor.jpgThe American Heart Association has compiled its annual list of the top 10 major advances in heart disease.

“We have come far in the past decade, reducing heart disease deaths by more than 27 per cent,” said Ralph Sacco of the University of Miami.

“But we know there is still much to be done in improving the lives of heart disease and stroke patients – and more importantly, in preventing these devastating diseases in the first place. Scientific research will help us lead the way,” said Sacco.

The highlights of the top ten advances in cardiovascular research in 2010:
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Uncontrolled hypertension, chronic kidney disease may increase retinopathy risk

High blood pressure and chronic kidney disease are associated with a higher incidence of retinopathy in subjects who are not diabetic, a study found.

The 15-year cumulative incidence of retinopathy in the Beaver Dam Eye Study was 14.2% in 4,699 subjects between the ages of 43 years and 86 years.

Subjects with uncontrolled hypertension had a higher incidence of retinopathy than those who had normal blood pressure (hazard ratio: 2.07).

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Test for early Alzheimer’s ‘seems possible’

Man testing his cognitive skills

Cognitive skills decline with dementia

UK experts say they may have found a way to check for Alzheimer’s years before symptoms appear.

A lumbar puncture test combined with a brain scan can identify patients with early tell-tale signs of dementia, they believe.

Ultimately, doctors could use this to select patients to try out drugs that may slow or halt the disease.

Currently there is no single test or cure for dementia, a condition that affects over 800,000 people in the UK.

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FDA to reexamine use of mercury in dental fillings

By Andrew Zajac, Tribune Washington BureauDecember 10, 2010, 1:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON—Prodded by consumer and dental activists, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the scientific evidence underlying its pronouncement less than 18 months ago that dental fillings containing mercury do not cause harm to patients.

An advisory panel of outside experts will meet next week to re-examine the basis of the FDA’s conclusions in the latest chapter of a lengthy battle with groups who believe the agency is understating possible links between the mercury in dental amalgam and neurological and other health problems.

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Certain Drug Combinations May Beat Back Aggressive Breast Cancer

Combined treatments appear more effective than any one drug or chemotherapy alone against HER-2 tumors, researchers report

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) — Combinations of targeted therapies for an especially aggressive type of breast cancer could potentially usher the majority of affected patients into remission, researchers at a major breast cancer meeting said Friday.

Presenting results from three trials at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, scientists explained that administering two or more drugs designed to treat HER2-positive tumors resulted in much higher remission rates than doses of any one drug or standard chemotherapy alone.

Given to patients several weeks before cancer surgery, with or without chemotherapy, the medications often shrank tumors dramatically or eradicated them altogether, the researchers said.

HER2-positive cancer is receptive to a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, which promotes the growth of malignant cells. Drugs that specifically target HER2 cells — including Herceptin, Tykerb and pertuzumab — have been proven effective on these types of tumors, which tend to be more aggressive than other breast cancers.

“I think it’s a very exciting era, because we’ve gone from a very lethal era . . . to a point where we might be able to cure this disease,” said Dr. Neil Spector, a professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, who moderated the symposium session.

Using Tykerb and Herceptin combined with chemotherapy before surgery, researchers followed 2,500 women with early breast cancer at 85 facilities throughout Germany. About half of these patients achieved remission before surgery, said Dr. Michael Untch, head of the multidisciplinary breast cancer department at Helios Clinic in Berlin.

“In a majority of these patients, we could do breast-conserving surgery where previously they were candidates for mastectomy,” Untch said.

The team will continue following the patients to see if remission at surgery affects their outcome.

Another study showed the combination of pertuzumab and Herceptin, when given with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel, eradicated 46 percent of tumors, 50 percent more than the results achieved without pertuzumab. Also, 17 percent of tumors were eradicated by combining the two targeted drugs and skipping chemotherapy, the researchers said.

“Our study is the only one that has tested the hypothesis that [pertuzumab and Herceptin] could work without chemotherapy in these women,” said lead researcher Dr. Luca Gianni, director of medical oncology at the Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nationale Tumori Fondazione IRCCS Istituto di Milano in Italy.

The third study, which included 455 patients followed at 99 sites for nearly two years, indicated that a combination of Tykerb, Herceptin and the chemotherapy drug Taxol improved tumor response rates significantly more than any of the drugs alone.

The mix led to a 51 percent remission rate, compared to 29 percent for a single therapy, said lead researcher Dr. Jose Baselga, chief of the division of hematology and oncology and associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

“With these new therapies, we could easily go to curing over 90 percent of these patients, which is remarkable since this was the most lethal kind of breast cancer 10 years ago,” said Baselga.

“This is a very fast advancement of new therapies,” Untch agreed.

Researchers countered negative side effects of the drugs, which included diarrhea, liver function abnormalities, skin disorders and a low white blood cell count, by lowering patients’ dosages or administering additional medications to alleviate specific symptoms.

Describing targeted therapies as a “HER2 blockade,” Spector said if cost was not an issue, he would use all three drugs on HER2-positive breast cancer patients.

Discussing the high cost of treatment at the session, the researchers noted that spending more money on faster-acting, more effective treatments could save other treatment expenditures down the line.

“I do think we need to be creative in the ways we [run through] this data to make things more affordable,” Spector said.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the findings should be viewed as preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Mom’s blood carries fetus genome

A complete copy of the fetal genome exists in the mother’s blood, suggesting many prenatal diagnoses could be performed noninvasively

[Published 8th December 2010 07:00 PM GMT]

Circulating in the blood of pregnant women is the full genome of their unborn child, according to a study published online today (December 8) in Science Translational Medicine.

Image: Wikimedia commons, Swangerschaft

The results suggest that whole genome sequencing of fetuses may be possible without invasive procedures, and hold implications for the prenatal diagnoses of every genetic disease.

This study provides “a window into the fetal genome,” said reproductive geneticist Diana W. Bianchi of the Mother Infant Research Institute at the Tufts University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research. “In principle, that means that you could noninvasively prenatally diagnose anything because the sequence is going to be there.”

In 1997, chemical pathologist Dennis Lo of The Chinese University of Hong Kong and his colleagues discovered the presence of fetal DNA in maternal blood. Scientists have since developed noninvasive procedures to prenatally diagnose certain diseases. Down syndrome, for example, results from an abnormal number of chromosomes, and can be detected by searching mother’s blood for disproportionate amounts of DNA from different chromosomes. And genetic diseases inherited from the father may also be detected by searching the mother’s blood for the paternal mutation.

It was unclear, however, if the entire fetal genome was present in the maternal plasma, which would give clinicians more confidence in the tests currently available by limiting the rate of false-negative results. Additionally, it might make it possible to screen for genetic diseases that are caused by genetic mutations inherited from the mother, as well as sequence the entire genome of the unborn child, without subjecting the mother to invasive procedures that carry a small risk of miscarriage.

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Evolving the Scientific Method

Technology is changing the way we conduct science.

Arsenic supports life?

The toxic element might be able to replace phosphorus to support microbial growth, casting doubt on the belief phosphorus is essential to life

A strain of bacteria isolated from a salt lake in California can grow on arsenic, seemingly in lieu of phosphorus in its DNA and other major biomolecules.

Mono Lake, California
Image: Image © 2010 Henry Bortman

The finding, published today (December 2) on the Science Express Web site, throws into doubt the long-held belief that phosphorus is absolutely essential to life, and broadens the range of environments in which scientists might expect to find extraterrestrial organisms.

“This is a surprise,” said biochemist Barry Rosen of Florida International University, who was not involved in the research. “Not just for bacteria but for life in general, arsenic is one of the few elements that is considered to be only toxic and has no role in metabolism.”

It’s “pretty damn surprising,” agreed ecologist James Elser of the Arizona State University, who also did not participate in the study. “I’ve spent my career studying phosphorus limitation, and how organisms use phosphorus, and how nucleic acids always have phosphorus in them, and now there’s this exception. That’s what’s really weird.”

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Aging Ills Reversed in Mice

Scientists Tweak a Gene and Rejuvenate Cells, Raising Hopes for Uses in Humans


Scientists have partially reversed age-related degeneration in mice, an achievement that suggests a new approach for tackling similar disorders in people.

By tweaking a gene, the researchers reversed brain disease and restored the sense of smell and fertility in prematurely aged mice. Previous experiments with calorie restriction and other methods have shown that aspects of aging can be slowed. This appears to be the first time that some age-related problems in animals have actually been reversed.

REGENThe study was published online Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

“These mice were equivalent to 80-year-old humans and were about to pass away,” says Ronald DePinho, co-author of the paper and a scientist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. After the experiment, “they were the physiological equivalent of young adults.”

The institute is a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. The first author of the study is Mariela Jaskelioff at Dr. DePinho’s lab.

Although the finding is compelling, it remains to be seen whether the approach can slow the signs and symptoms of aging in people. The latest results were obtained with mice that were specifically altered to age prematurely. And while the animals showed no signs of tumors, there is a risk that the technique could trigger cancer.

The experiment focused on telomerase, an enzyme that makes small units of DNA that seal the tips of chromosomes.

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