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Mice may hold key to longevity

By Julie Clothier for CNN

Elderly mice put on a low-calorie diet lived for around six months longer than a typical life span of two years.
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(CNN) -- A scientist awarded a prize for keeping elderly mice alive beyond their normal life spans believes his work could help slow human aging and unlock cures for diseases associated with old age, such as cancer and heart disease.

Stephen Spindler, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California at Riverside, told CNN that several scientists were working on ways for humans to live beyond the current record of 122.

He said research into increasing longevity was not only about living longer but also about making life more enjoyable by eliminating diseases of old age.

"We need to convince policy makers that finding the causes of aging is a reasonable thing to do," he said.

"Some people still consider extending life span as quackery, but like every other field of medicine, the more we know the more we are able to reverse things and extend life span, not just the bad years -- but by slowing down the aging process."

Spindler is the current holder of the Methuselah Mouse Rejuvenation Prize, or "M Prize."

The M Prize is offered by the Methuselah Project, a privately-funded foundation created to encourage research into aging in the same way the Ansari X Prize spurred the development of privately-funded spacecraft such as SpaceShipOne.

The prize has two categories: a longevity prize for research in developing mice that live much longer; and a rejuvenation prize for finding ways to extend the life of an adult mouse, which Spindler won.

Spindler's award-winning research showed that elderly mice put on a low-calorie diet lived for around six months longer than a typical life span of two years. The oldest mouse on record, and current holder of the longevity prize, lived for nearly five years.

Spindler said that when mice reached about 20 months old and humans about 60 years old, diseases such as cancer in both humans and mice, and heart disease in humans, became increasingly common.

As yet, there was no concrete evidence to suggest that controlling calorie intake in humans had the same effect, Spindler said.

But he claimed that it could be possible in the future to extend human life spans to 1,000 years.

"It sounds crazy, I know, but when I started in research as a graduate student we didn't really know what a gene looked like, but just in those intervening years, we're designing drugs to specifically target specialist genetic problems and they working fairly well," Spindler said.

"The same kind of growth in knowledge could have a dramatic impact on aging."

He said that whether a person or mouse developed diseases like cancer and heart disease in their old age depended on their genetic make-up, but people could still take preventative measures.

"If people want to do something for their health right now, they should quit smoking if they smoke. Eat more fruit and vegetables and less meat and that will reduce cardiovascular risk by half. Rather than think about taking supplements there are simpler things they can do to help."

Methuselah Foundation co-founder Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist at Cambridge University in England, told CNN that he believed human life span could be extended by hundreds of years by the middle of the 21st century.

De Grey said: "People born just 20 years apart, either side of the escape-velocity cusp, can thus expect life spans differing by many hundreds of years -- and no one knows when that cusp will arrive." (Full story)

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