5.2 Neural ageing: article 1
Now read Neural Ageing Article 1: Concar, D. (2001) ‘Forever young’, New Scientist, 171, pp. 26–27.
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This article addresses an area of ageing research that receives much publicity: whether or not ageing can be slowed down and lifespan can be increased by various interventions. Concar effectively eliminates some of the popular myths about such interventions, and also highlights an important point; that is, the difficulty in use of relatively simple ‘model’ or laboratory organisms – which have relatively short lifespans and are usually ‘inbred’ and so are genetically similar – to provide information that can be extrapolated to the ageing of complex long-lived organisms such as humans. The article refers to three still-popular interventions: free radical scavengers, calorie restriction and growth hormone supplements. While the free radical theory is widely accepted, and calorie restriction remains the only intervention to consistently retard age-associated pathologies and increase lifespan in laboratory animals (including small mammals such as rats and mice), it is clear that unregulated use of these interventions can be harmful. The use of growth hormone supplementation is of increasing concern, now that such supplements are readily available via the internet. In the final section of the article, Concar introduces us to a very important topic, the relationship between genes and environment, which you will come across many times during your future reading. The article ends on a positive note, with the forecast that new ‘gene chip’ (or DNA microarray) technologies will allow very detailed analyses of the changes in expression of thousands of genes and thus provide much new information about ageing. To fully appreciate Concar's article, and in your future reading, you will need to be aware of (a) the free radical theory of ageing (first proposed by Harman, in 1956); and (b) the use of calorie restriction as a means of slowing down the ageing process.