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Teams study how elderly can stay healthy

Li Qian
Shanghai scientists publish their latest findings into how two genes are able to accelerate deterioration with age thus indicating they are potential drug targets.
Li Qian
Teams study how elderly can stay healthy
Ti Gong

Leading researcher Cai Shiqing at work in his laboratory.

Shanghai scientists have published their latest findings into how to stay healthy in old age.

Their study, published in Nature, show that two genes, BAZ2B and EHMT1, are able to accelerate the deterioration of behavioral performances with age. They also found a positive correlation between the two genes and Alzheimer's.

Leading researcher Cai Shiqing said the two genes may serve as potential drug targets for functional and cognitive decline in the elderly.

“We are now looking for small-molecule drugs to decrease the expressions of BAZ2B, which is believed to be safer than EHMT1. Also, we are working to understand which lifestyle is good for the elderly to stay healthy,” Cai said. “But our research into both is still in its infancy.”

The study by Cai’s team from the Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology and Jiang Lubing’s team at the Institute Pasteur of Shanghai, both institutes under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was published in the scientific journal on February 27.

Nature said: “The authors have identified novel targets that can be exploited to improve healthy aging.”

Humans have been trying to find a way to achieve immortality for thousands of years, but the scientific research in prolonging life only began in the late 1930s when scientists found dietary restrictions made rats live longer.

Thanks to the rapid development of molecular biology, scientists have found hundreds of “longevity genes” in the past 30 years. However, staying healthy is important as lifespans increase.

Elderly people do slow down and face a variety of problems, including chronic diseases. So, it’s more important for them to live healthy later in life.

The world is seeing an increase in the number of people over the age of 65. Figures from the United Nations show that the population of people over 65 will reach 860 million in 2025, 1.14 billion in 2035 and 1.5 billion by 2050. In China, the number of people aged over 60 will increase to 247 million this year, nearly 17 percent of whom will lose the ability to take care of themselves.

Neurotransmitters, messengers between neurons, decline when people get older. By increasing the function of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure, researchers found an improvement in performances of older animals.

They wanted to see which genes affected levels of dopamine.

By doing experiments on nematodes, they found two — BAZ-2 and SET-6 — were key. In follow-up testing, elder nematodes’ neurotransmitters became active when their BAZ-2 and SET-6 levels were reduced.

The researchers analyzed human genes and found that BAZ2B compared to BAZ-2 and EHMT1 compared to SET-6. They had similar features and were utilized in a similar manner.

Tests showed that rats, genetically engineered to remove BAZ-2, had better cognitive abilities when they were older. And their lifespan wasn’t affected.

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