Cancer vs. Aging: take your pick

May 27, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

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old_manIt is one of those biological paradoxes: what protects us from cancer early in life accelerate aging that makes us more susceptible to cancer later in life. This is according to a study by researchers at the Buck Institute for Age Research.

When the DNA in the cells gets damaged, the cells shut down and stop dividing. This shutting down provides protection against cancer. However, these cells also spew out proteins into the cells surrounding environment causing inflammation and creating conditions for the development of age-related diseases including, ironically, cancer. The process is called cellular senescence.

According to lead author and Buck Faculty member Dr. Judith Campisi

“We provide for the first time a broad molecular description of how this well known mechanism for cancer prevention drives aging and age-related disease by changing the local tissue environment.”

This is partly why treating cancer with chemotherapy leads to its severe side effects. The therapy forces both cancerous and non-cancerous cells into senescence, and blocks rapidly dividing cells such as those of the alimentary canal and hair follicles. The result is the severe nausea and hair loss that cancer patients on chemotherapy have to put up with.

Dr. Campisi continues to explain:

“The study has major implications for age research. This dynamic between cancer prevention and aging is exactly what is predicted by antagonistic pleiotropy, a major evolutionary theory of aging, which explains the trade-offs between early fitness and late life survival. The results suggest that a cellular response that likely evolved to protect from early life cancer can promote late life pathology, including, ironically, late life cancer. The challenge now is to preserve the anti-cancer activity of the senescence response while dampening its pro-aging effects.”

Indeed, life is full of ironies and this is one of them. It is basically a case of escaping cancer in your prime but growing old sooner. Luckily, there are research studies going on to unravel this biological paradox. The Buck Institute is the only freestanding institute in the United States that is devoted solely to basic research on aging and age-associated disease. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life. The National Institute on Aging designated the Buck a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Biology of Aging, one of just five centers in the country.

And the Buck researchers aren’t just stopping there with this research. They are investigating how to encourage the body to get rid of the senescent or aging cells faster. Hopefully, someday they will find a way to treat cancer and halt aging at the same time.

 Photo credit: stock.xchng

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