Mouse Science Explains Why People’s Ears Get Bigger As They Age

One of the goals we set ourselves on Boggart Blog is to keep readers informed on the latest developments in mouse science, that branch of biology dedicated to proving humans and mice are descended from a common ancestor and that experiments carried out on mice apply equally to humans.

One of the things that remains a mystery to medical science is the way humans age. The onset of wrinkles, greying of hair, muscle wasting and cataracts awaits us all as the years pass. Some say it is psychosomatic, that we are so obsessed with numbers we think ourselves old by counting birthdays, other think it is related to declining fertility. One thing is for sure, animals to do go through that long period of declining vitality, dogs and cats can remain glossy coated, bright eyed and in the case of males up for trying to shag items of furniture, cushions and shoes until close to the end. Then while some go into a rapid decline, others simply keel over while still apparently at the height of their powers.

So why, according to studies, do humans start to wind down before they even reach the halfway point in their anticipated lifespan of about 80 years. If this only occurred in humans whose kids are in their teens as parents approach 40 we could understand it, but apparently it happens to childless people too. And might science discover an elixir of life able to keep us healthy and virile for another twenty years. Well there is hope. The onset of ageing has successfully been delayed and even eliminated by “flushing out” retired cells that had stopped dividing, say researchers in the US.

The study, published in Nature magazine, focused on what are known as “senescent cells”. They stop dividing into new cells and have an important role in preventing tumours from progressing.

Senescent cells are normally cleared out by the immune system, but their numbers build up with time. The researchers estimated that around 10% of cells are senescent in very old people.

These cells accumulate naturally with age. The scientists believe their findings could eventually “really have an impact” in the care of the elderly and in reducing the burden on health services of an ageing population. Experts sound a note of caution however by warning that while results were “fascinating”, they should be taken with a bit of caution. So far the technique has only been tried on mice.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic, in the US, devised a way to kill all senescent cells in genetically engineered mice. The animals would age far more quickly than normal, and when they were given a drug, the senescent cells would die. The researchers looked at three symptoms of old age: formation of cataracts in the eye; the wasting away of muscle tissue; and the loss of fat deposits under the skin, which keep it smooth. Researchers said the onset of these symptoms was “dramatically delayed” when the animals were treated with the drug.

This is all very well but can we look forward to a population full of healthy looking young people who say things like, “I’m seventy eight you know, complain about the price of everything and smell if piss and wintergreen. And has anyone looked at the possible long term effects of the drug. It may work on mice but will it cause humans to run round and round little wheels, become addicted to cheese or dive into holes in the skirting when anyone enters the room. And will people taking the drug develop superhuman powers like the ability to pick up cast iron frying pans many times their own weight and hit cats in the face.

On reading the report we came to the conclusion that like climate science or the long awaited vaccine against death, this is a scientific scam. Did you notice the experiment worked on mice that had been genetically engineered to age more quickly than normal? The report states: “When it was given after the mice had been allowed to age, there was an improvement in muscle function.” So are these medics proposing to genetically modify our bodies to age more quickly then give is drugs to stop us ageing, demand thousands of pounds for the treatment and when we complain tell us they’ve done us a favour? They are going to give us progeria just so they can cure it? Is this a job creation scheme for scientists?

And the big question is will it actually work on humans or will old people simply grow long tails and large ears and develop behavioural traits of “wee cow’ring, sleekit, tim’rous beasties? One of the researchers, Dr James Kirkland, said: “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Like what? you mght well ask. Old ladies with large ears and long tails giving birth to six litters of mouselets a year?

Does this research really hold out the tantalising prospect of eternal youth? The treatment had no effect on lifespan, but that may be due to the type of genetically engineered mouse used. Doctors not involved in the research grant phishing scam research were sceptical however, arguing that younger, fitter, non mouse-hybrid people are already clearing out their senescent cells when they have a dump.

RELATED POSTS:
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More mouse science, more mouse – amazing breakthrough as scientists discover if mice a fed lots of lard they get fat.
Man or mouse – have scientists grown human sperm in mouse testicles?
Unlocking the secrets of ageing
Human / animal hybrids created ‘for research only’
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Scientists reinvent the (mouse) wheel
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