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Tumor-suppressing Gene Contributes to Aging 145

Van Cutter Romney writes "Scientists have discovered a tumor suppressing gene which also leads to aging in stem cells. The gene also known as p16INK4a when removed from 'knockout' mice resulted in older mice having organs as healthy as younger ones. However they didn't live any longer than normal mice. The new study was confirmed by three independent researchers from Harvard, UNC Chapel Hill and University of Michigan."
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Tumor-suppressing Gene Contributes to Aging

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  • by Twanfox (185252) on Thursday September 07, 2006 @10:31PM (#16063800)
    I think you fail to understand the possibilities of having multiple avenues for the body to prevent unchecked cellular reproduction. Built into each cell should be the codings to tell it how and how often to divide, and at what stages of life. When those checks fail due to any number of circumstances (mutations due to environment or flawed genes), a secondary check, the immune system, responds to a threat of unchecked cellular reproduction by destroying it if possible.

    Think of it like social behavior. Ideally, all pro-social behavior is internalized and you operate within the guidelines of the law. However, when you fail to (speeding, for instance), law enforcement is there to step you back into the proper action.
  • Re:Hmm. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bobNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday September 07, 2006 @10:34PM (#16063812) Journal
    Wonder what the catch is.

    There is only one catch and that is Catch-22, which specifies that turning off p16INK4a for one's safety of your organs in the face of dangers that are real and immediate will cause cancer. Giving yourself cancer is not the process of a rational mind.

    The trick might be to turn off the expression of the gene temporarily to rejuvenate aging organs, then switch it back in again to suppress cancer. That way, maybe Yossarian can have is cake and eat it too...

  • by qaffle (264280) on Thursday September 07, 2006 @11:09PM (#16063929)
    As organisms get older the chance that they will have a mutation that leads to some form of cancer grows (in a if every day you have the chance of something happening, after enough days go by you're likely to have had it happening sense).

    Does the same thing apply to a cell?

    In other words, as a cell ages is it more likely to have a cancerous mutation? And how does this likeliness compare to the chance of having a cancerous mutation through a cell's reproduction process? (these are for the biologists out there)

    If you have a greater chance to have the mutation a cell reproduces then you'd want cells to live along time so they have to reproduce less. If you have a greater chance as the cell sticks around (ages) then you'd want more reproduction and a shorter life span (even though this would be less energy and resource efficient, but maybe more efficient than fixing/killing cancerous cells).

  • by Profound (50789) on Friday September 08, 2006 @12:03AM (#16064083) Homepage
    In the western world old people are sitting in their big houses with backyards while young families with children are crowded into small apartments.

    Once the old people can no longer look after themselves, they will be put into a care home, and kept alive for decades using modern technology. I visited old folks homes for a while, and me playing chess with an old man for 1 hour a week was the highlight of his life, the highlight for another man was me rolling a ball back and forth on a table to his arthritic hands - it made me incredibly depressed.

    It seems that living longer, no matter at what quality of life, is regarded unquestioningly as a good thing. People can and do suffer when they are old, and if they want to die, the state will not allow them that choice.

    Old person: "I don't want to live, I am in immense pain"
    Government: "You are not allowed to end your suffering, we will force you to stay alive and in pain"

    Keeping people alive has a cost. Every old person living in a semi-comatose state in a nursing home has costs to the person, the country and the world, the same amount of money could probably save 5-10 dying children in a developing country.

    All I'm saying is, maybe we should think about quality of life rather than quantity.
  • Re:Hmm. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Grym (725290) * on Friday September 08, 2006 @12:10AM (#16064107)

    he trick might be to turn off the expression of the gene temporarily to rejuvenate aging organs, then switch it back in again to suppress cancer. That way, maybe Yossarian can have is cake and eat it too...

    Wishful thinking. As much as people would love to blame the cause of aging on one particular gene or process, the truth of the matter is that aging is a complex and multi-factorial phenomenon that can't be addressed that easily.

    Sure, stopping this particular gene might allow for more somatic cell repair but what does that do for the damaged mDNA due to free radicals in the mitohondria [nature.com]? And what about the telomeres protecting the ends of your chromosomes which would decrease with every replication [utah.edu]? And what about damaged cells whose replication could cause the very cancer this gene was probably "designed" to prevent?

    Not to be discouraging of this kind of research, but really it is just pie-in-the-sky type of stuff and should be regarded as such; the science just isn't there yet. And the irony of it all is that immortality most certainly won't be obtained in our lifetimes. Joseph Heller has to be smiling somewhere about that one.

    -Grym

  • p16INK4a (Score:1, Insightful)

    by 8ball629 (963244) on Friday September 08, 2006 @01:42AM (#16064374) Homepage
    p16INK4a
    Did anyone else read that as PIG INK AA?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 08, 2006 @01:46AM (#16064382)
    Okay. A few problems with your thinking:

    1) Those old people are generally able to end their own lives if they really wanted to - but they don't. Your generalisation that old people "don't want to live" is inaccurate. Many studies (check on PubMed with a few salient keywords) have shown that elderly people are just as happy (if not more so) than younger people. There is also no magic point at which people suddenly decide that life is not worth living - the vast majority of people will always want to live longer.

    2) Health and medical inequities. These will always exist, but that isn't a reason to suddenly stop with progression of science and medicine. There is actually a trickle-down effect, where medical procedures that are pioneered and used in developed countries become available to poorer areas of the world. One major example is the use of antibiotics and vaccines which have done more to prevent childhood mortality across the world than any other technological advance. If we stopped research into new medical advances, it doesn't mean that all the money will suddenly be used to treat the poor and less fortunate. This is a false dichotomy.

    3) Anti-ageing research will not result in infirm and sick people kept in that condition for decades. The whole point to anti-ageing research is to increase the health and quality of life of people as they age. We won't have a situation where people age to 70-80, are in poor condition and then stay like that for another 40-50 years. The aim is to have 80 year olds who are as healthy as 50 year olds (or less!), and centenarians who act like they are healthy 60 year-olds. With successful progress in anti-ageing research we will actually decrease the health cost of the elderly, freeing up more money in the health system to treat other medical problems.

    In summary: This is a good thing, and it IS thinking about quality of life, as well as quantity - they are directly linked, there need not be a choice of one or the other.
    (Disclaimer: I just submitted my PhD last month on ageing processes in rats, so I have a pretty informed opinion on this topic :)

  • by CTachyon (412849) <{chronos} {at} {chronos-tachyon.net}> on Friday September 08, 2006 @03:07AM (#16064579) Homepage

    No, your parent post deliberately sidestepped the Gambler's Fallacy. He clearly indicated that he meant "more likely" in the sense of "the odds of at least one tails after one flip is 50%; the odds of at least one tails after 8 flips is 99.6%", since the total number of tails/mutations accumulates. After a very long time, the probability of one or more mutations is nearly certain, even if the probability of each mutation occuring is constant.

  • by zCyl (14362) on Friday September 08, 2006 @03:14AM (#16064594)
    If you could change the balance at any point, what would it mean to be able to choose between heightened risk of cancer and some of the worse effects of old age? What a choice to have to make.

    Ideally, you would be able to turn it on and off at will. Turn off aging when you reach a certain age. Then if you contract cancer, turn it on really quick to help kill off the cancer, and then when you recover from cancer, turn the "aging" process back off.

    Not that we could do anything of the sort anytime soon, but hey, it could work on Star Trek.
  • by Bozdune (68800) on Friday September 08, 2006 @07:00AM (#16065094)
    Actually, the majority is almost always conservative, no matter what generation you consider. We have had rather few progressive Presidents, wouldn't you say? Didn't matter whether the boomers were young or old. The Boomers were too young to vote for Kennedy. The choice in 1964 was between Goldwater, who wanted to expand the war in Vietnam, and Johnson, who claimed he didn't, but did. Johnson was a fluke. Nobody knew he had a liberal social policy agenda, he was a conservative Southern democrat who Kennedy put on the ticket in order to win Texas. After Johnson we elected Nixon, by landslides, just when the boomers started voting en mass. Then we chose Carter, a conservative, religious southern Democrat, over the half-dead Jerry Ford, hardly a progressive choice. Then 12 years of Reagan and Bush I -- our most conservative Presidents since Hoover -- during the prime years of 30-something Boomer voting! 8 years of Clinton, who cut welfare to the bone and accomplished nothing on any progressive agenda. Then 8 years of (gack) Bush II.

    John Stuart Mill said, "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it." Mill goes on to say that since there are undeniably a lot of stupid people, the Conservatives will always be a very powerful party. Perhaps this is closer to the explanation you are looking for.
  • by Peaker (72084) <gnupeaker@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Friday September 08, 2006 @09:18AM (#16065568) Homepage
    Cancer is not a disease.

    It is a whole class of diseases. There are many many types of cancer, each with its own causes, mutations or cell environment changes.

    If there is a "cure for cancer" its going to be a hell of a lot of cures.

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