Secrets of Starvation

Hartosh Singh Bal turned from the difficulty of doing mathematics to the ease of writing on politics. Unlike mathematics all this requires is being less wrong than most others who dwell on the subject.
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Researchers soon hope to find drugs that mimic the anti-ageing and anti-cancer impacts of low-cal diets.

In 1917 Osborne, Mendel and Ferry found that rats fed on a calorie restricted diet actually gained in life span. Since then the experiment has been repeated on fruit flies, spiders, guppies, rats and rhesus monkeys with much the same result. The consistency across species has led to the expectation that calorie restriction may have the same impact on humans.

The only problem is that such discipline is not given to most humans, and most of us are bound to feel that a life extended at the cost of constant starvation is not worth living at all. But what if a drug could mimic how calorie restriction works?

In a paper in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, Trygve Tollefsbol, researcher at the Center for Aging and Comprehensive Cancer Center at Birmingham, and his collaborators have reported how restricted calorie diets help human cells live longer by triggering responses at the genetic level.

According to an FASEB release, the researchers used normal human lung cells and precancerous human lung cells that were at the beginning stages of cancer formation. Both sets of cells were grown in the laboratory and received either normal or reduced levels of glucose. As the cells grew, researchers monitored their ability to divide, and kept track of how many cells survived. They found that the normal cells lived longer, and many of the precancerous cells died, when given less glucose.

“Our hope is that the discovery that reduced calories extends the life span of normal human cells will… facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the life span of humans,” says Tollefsbol. “We would also hope for these studies to lead to improved prevention of cancer as well as many other age-related diseases through controlling calorie intake of specific cell types.’’ Gerald Weissmann, MD and editor-in-chief of FASEB, is categorical: “Western science is on the cusp of developing a pharmaceutical fountain of youth. This study confirms that we are on the path to persuading human cells to let us live longer, and perhaps cancer-free, lives.”