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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Anti-ageing breakthrough
Scientists have isolated a crucial protein
A breakthrough in gene technology holds out the prospect of a more effective anti-ageing treatment.

It may also lead to new treatments to fight cancer.

Scientists from Newcastle University have found a way to enhance the body's natural repair mechanism.

Research like this that provides a first step towards scientists being able to design drugs that prevent age-related diseases

Research into Ageing group
They have discovered that raising levels of a specialised protein called PARP-1 can help cells to carry out repairs more effectively.

PARP-1 works by mending damaged strands of the genetic material DNA.

It is thought that damage to DNA is the driving force behind the ageing process.

It is also known to be a major factor in the development of cancers.

Animal lifespans

The Newcastle team has previously shown that animals with different lifespans have different types of PARP-1.

For instance, mice, which have a short lifespan, have a less effective form of the protein.

The researchers believe this is because mice have lots of predators, and are therefore unlikely to live very long.

Therefore instead of trying to maximise their lifespan, they have evolved to concentrate their energies into reproducing themselves.

On the other hand, species such as humans with few predators have may have evolved more efficient PARP-1 because it makes sense in evolutionary terms to try to maximise lifespan.

This opens up exciting possibilities for future research

Dr Alexander Burkle
lead researcher
Lead researcher Dr Alexander Burkle, of the Department of Gerontology at Newcastle University, said: "We have produced cells which, under stress conditions keep their genetic substance, the DNA, in better shape, in a way which for some reason was not the path chosen by nature during evolution.

"This opens up exciting possibilities for future research."

Dr Burkle said it could be that people who age rapidly have a deficiency of PARP-1 in certain types of tissue.

Role of vitamin

Dr Burkle is also interested in the role of the vitamin, niacin, which also plays a role in DNA repair.

He believes that it is possible that the ageing process may be accelerated by a lack of niacin in the poor Western diet.

A spokeswoman for the medical research charity Research into Ageing told BBC News Online that the research was "exciting".

"Dr Burkle's discovery is a good example of the high quality research that is needed to improve our defences against the conditions that can make later life miserable.

"Research like this that identifies specific mechanisms provides a first step towards scientists being able to design drugs that prevent age-related diseases.

"We need this kind of understanding to make our longer lives as healthy, active and independent as possible"

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See also:

24 May 00 | Health
Anti-ageing pill moves closer
23 Mar 01 | Health
Why smokers' skin 'ages' faster
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Lead 'accelerates ageing'
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Sleep linked to ageing
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