It is a question people have been asking for—well-- ages. Is there a way to turn back the aging process?
For centuries, people have been looking for a "fountain of youth." The idea is that if you find a magical fountain, and drink from its waters, you will not age.
Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León searched for waters with magical powers in the early 1500s. But what he found instead is the American state of Florida.
Researchers in New York did not find an actual fountain of youth, but they may have found a way to turn back the aging process. It appears the answer may be hidden right between your eyes, in an area called the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is part of your brain. It controls important activities within the body. They include growth, reproduction and the way we process food.
Researchers at New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that hypothalamus neural stem cells also influence how fast aging takes place in the body.
What are stem cells? They are simple cells that can develop into specialized cells, like blood or skin cells. Stem cells can also repair damaged tissues and organs.
Dongsheng Cai is a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He was the lead researcher in a study on aging in mice. He and his team reported their findings in the journal Nature.
Cai explains what they found.
"Aging speed is controlled, can be controlled by a particular place in the body, which is the hypothalamus. And it can be controlled by a particular type of cells, which are hypothalamus stem cells. I think these findings are quite interesting, potentially even remarkable."
He adds that when the hypothalamus starts aging, so does the body.
"So when hypothalamus function is in decline, particularly the loss of hypothalamus stem cells, and this protection against the aging development is lost, it eventually leads to aging."
Using this information, the researchers began trying to activate, or energize, the hypothalamus in laboratory mice. They did this by injecting the animals with stem cells.
Later, the researchers examined tissues and tested for changes in behavior. They looked for changes in the strength and coordination of the animals' muscles. They also studied the social behavior and cognitive ability of the mice.
The researchers say the results show that the treatment slowed aging in the animals.
Cai says injecting middle-aged mice with stem cells from younger mice helped the older animals live longer.
"When we injected the hypothalamus stem cells, which were derived from young mice, we injected them to the middle-aged mice and that was, in fact, to slow down aging. So the mouse aged slowly and they also have increased their lifespan, which is longevity."
But these results were just from studying mice in a laboratory. If the mice can live longer, does that mean people could have longer lives? The next step is to see if the anti-aging effects also work in human beings.
"If we can translate what we have seen in animals to humans, I think humans, they can function better during later ages, later stage of aging."
Cai and his team say their studies may have other benefits. They say the findings could lead to new ways to help doctors identify and treat any number of age-related health issues.
I'm Anne Ball.
Kevin Enochs reported on this story for VOANews. Anne Ball adapted this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
fountain – n. a device or structure that sends a stream of water into the air in a garden, park, etc
neural – adj. of, relating to, or involving a nerve or the nervous system
remarkable – adj. unusual or surprising : likely to be noticed
function – n. the job or duty of a person
coordination – n. the process of organizing people or groups so that they work together properly and well
cognitive – adj. of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)
benefit – n. a good or helpful result or effect