Elimination of Long Dying Process Could Alter Society

A group of still-hypothetical drugs that may serve to rejuvenate the body's cellular energy system and thus eliminate the diseases of aging could have the effect of removing a huge burden from the U.S. health care system and state and federal budgets. It could also promote closer, more intimately involved three-generational families that are free of the woes, tensions and anxieties revolving around chronic diseases of the aged.

Research published recently in the journal Science shows that resveratrol, a compound common in red wine and grape juice, can eliminate age-related disease in mice, allowing them to die suddenly at the end of their natural life spans. Thus, instead of dying of chronic, gradually destructive illnesses like diabetes, cancer or heart disease, the healthy but old mice simply "drop dead" without apparent cause.

So what do the mice die of? "Surprisingly, this straightforward question is not very easy to answer," said Southern Illinois University geriatric medicine scientist Andrzej Bartke. "In laboratory animals, it is often difficult to determine the cause of death with any certainty. The only thing we know thus far is that the long-lived mutant mice we are working with are significantly less likely to die of cancer ... and significantly more likely to die without any obvious death-causing lesions."

 Luigi Fontana, a Washington University School of Medicine scientist who pioneered research on caloric restriction (the phenomenon in which very low intake of calories has been found to eliminate age-related debilitating diseases), ventured to speculate a bit.

"[The mice] die of natural death ... probably their heart stops to beat!" he said. "The animal drops dead, and we cannot really know why. ... One explanation is the failure of the electrical conductive system of the heart because of metabolic alterations. ... No pain, no suffering, no medical and social cost for society!"


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