Early exercise, healthy genes central to long life

Tel Aviv University researchers found that exercise increases amount of muscle stem cells, contributing to body’s ability to renew old muscles.

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVITCH
December 26, 2010 03:39
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Women Gym 521. (photo credit: Courtesy)

It has always seemed rather obvious that regular exercise slows the ageing process. Now Tel Aviv University researchers have proven it at the cellular and molecular level. Prof. Dafna Benayahu and her team at TAU’s Sackler Medical Faculty found that exercise increases the amount of muscle stem cells, which ordinarily decline as people age. This prevents proper protection of the muscle mass and disrupts its ability to repair itself.

But people who exercise all their lives have more such cells, which contribute to the body’s ability to renew old muscles.

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The researchers, who published their report in the online open journal PLoS One, said they hoped their discovery would lead to the development of a new drug to help muscles repair themselves better in the elderly.

“As we age, our bodies undergo a process called sarcopenia, in which muscle mass declines and function is impaired.

Osteopenia is a decline in bone mass. As a result, the skeleton and muscles are more sensitive to daily damage,” said Benayahu.

Team member Dr. Gabi Scheffer added that when working with rats, they found that exercise increases the number of muscle stem cells. When they compared the number of such cells in rats that ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes a day over 13 weeks, they found a 20% to 35% increase in the number of cells for each muscle fiber in young rats, and an increase of 33% to 47% in older rats.

“Thanks to this advance, we can now dream of developing drugs for humans that will increase muscle mass and reduce the negative effects of ageing.”

THE KEYS TO LONGEVITY

With an estimated 78 million ageing US baby boomers, knowledge of aging may have a tremendous impact not only on future quality of life, but also on costs of healthcare. Dr. Nir Barzilai, a Yeshiva University expert at its Albert Einstein Institute for Aging Research, has learned quite a lot about longevity genes. Barzilai and his New York team have so far conducted genetic analyses of more than 500 Ashkenazi Jewish centenarians and near-centenarians, over 700 of their children (aged 60 to 85) and more than 600 age-matched unrelated controls. The team validates its findings by comparing genetic markers found in the children of centenarians with those markers found in or absent from children whose parents have what’s known as “usual survival.”

Ashkenazim were selected because their genetic makeup is comparatively homogeneous.

Among the key factors they found contribute to extreme longevity is having a parent who lived a long life. In addition, having plenty of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) is beneficial, while having a lot of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) is not. In addition, people with larger HDL and LDL molecule sizes have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.

They also discovered that telomeres – those parts of DNA at the edge of chromosomes that shorten every time the cell divides – are longer in centenarians, and longer telomeres seem to be inherited by their children.

Using high-throughput technology and a systems biology approach, the researchers have begun to sequence the entire genomes of centenarians, which contain billions of nucleotides. Advances in the field of epigenetics will help them better understand how protective or harmful genes are activated (“turned on” or “turned off”). This could lead to drug therapies that regulate gene expression.

Long-term follow-up with the children of centenarians and unrelated matched controls – not only Ashkenazi Jews – will prove with certainty whether the longevity genes that Einstein investigators have already discovered are directly related to protection against disease.

YU’s Einstein College of Medicine says it will willingly share results of its research studies on the Web so researchers around the world can conduct their own genevalidation studies; through global collaboration, Einstein researchers will thus promote the discovery of keys to healthier aging.

SHEBA HELPS START MEDICAL DEGREE PROGRAM IN CYPRUS

The new medical degree program established in Cyprus by Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and two foreign universities is expected to attract students from all EU countries, including Cyprus, Israel, Greece, Russia, the US and Canada.

Sheba’s partners in this major initiative for medical education in the eastern Mediterranean are St. George’s of the University of London (one of the leading medical schools in the UK) and the University of Nicosia (the largest private university in Cyprus). The international medical program will start in September 2011.

Students successfully completing the four-year graduate-entry MBBS (Bachelor in Medicine and Bachelor in Surgery) program will earn a medical degree from St/ George’s that is recognized worldwide.

They will follow the innovative Englishlanguage curriculum and have access to the e-learning medical education resources available to students in London.

At the same time, they will enjoy the full privileges and state-of-the-art facilities provided by the University of Nicosia and by Sheba, which will provide teaching faculty for the pre-clinical study portion of the medical degree program, and clinical clerkships in Israel for the clinical portion.

LASER ‘CURE’ FOR NAIL FUNGUS UNPROVEN

Despite widespread advertising by private clinics claiming that a one-time laser “treatment” cures nail fungus, the chairman of a conference on skin and nail diseases said earlier this month that this “cure” has never been proven. Dr. Avner Shemer said at the first Israeli conference on this subject, held at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya, that it was aimed at preventing disinformation on such diseases and to counter myths about various “treatments.”

“Regarding lasers, marketing has overcome science.” The conference was attended by 150 dermatologists, who heard six leading experts from France, Canada, the US, Greece and Belgium in addition to Israelis.


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