UVA researchers want to help you live a longer, higher quality life

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As more people live longer, University of Virginia scientists wonder how society will come to grips with longer, more complicated lives.

University of Virginia researchers have joined a growing chorus of scientists looking for ways to slow or even reverse the aging process. However, as more people live longer, university scientists wonder how society will come to grips with longer, more complicated lives.

Research published by biologist Eyleen O’Rourke and 10 colleagues across the schools of medicine and the biology department suggested a way to extend healthy life in groups of yeast and roundworms. A process that they said could work to combat the toxic by-products of fat.

“When thinking about obesity,” she said in a news release, in part, “we need to shift from the image side of the problem.”

After O’Rourke and her colleagues searched through hundreds of genes to find out which one helped extend life in their testing group, they found an enzyme: ADH-1.

ADH-1, he said, breaks down alcohol and reduces body toxins in humans. It is also more activated during different types of fasting. O’Rourke said researchers increased these genes in worms and yeast to profound benefits.

“So far, we have seen positive effects across the board in terms of increased muscle strength, reduced fat storage, and increased memory and learning, in addition to increased lifespan,” she said.

O’Rourke said that these long-term improvements especially are worth keeping track of.

“More importantly than living longer, aging is the main risk factor for all these diseases we want to cure or at least treat better: cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegeneration, osteoporosis,” she said. “If we could slow down aging, we could simultaneously delay the onset and reduce the incidence of many of these destructive diseases.”

These big improvements, which stand to potentially help healthy humans live well into the next century, aren’t guaranteed to work, however.

Irina Bochkis, a researcher in the University’s School of Medicine is looking at ways to iron out wrinkled genes, and said anti-aging doesn’t stop at living longer.

“In the aging field, there are two camps: improving health span and increasing lifespan. Some genes might contribute to both, but not necessarily. We should focus on improving health span and quality of life for the current lifespan before we start talking about increasing it,” Bochkis said.

Experts at the university, including sociologist Joseph Davis and psychologist Mariana Teles, agreed with the sentiment that getting older doesn’t always mean living well. For some, Teles said, it means more memory problems, issues with maintaining social relationships and deeper cognitive trouble.

“These studies reveal that there is a gradual but continuous decline in our cognitive abilities as we age. A deeper decline in these abilities, coupled with a longer lifespan will significantly affect our daily lives, making it more challenging to carry out everyday activities independently,” Teles said.