New group to study health span and ageing
As the Australian population ages, its biggest health problems are now degenerative diseases rather than infections. So the Centenary Institute has established a Laboratory of Ageing headed by Dr Masaomi Kato, who has moved to Australia from Yale University.
Recent studies have shown that the ageing process is under genetic control, and can be manipulated, quickened or slowed.
The more we know about it, says Dr Kato, the better able we will be to improve the quality of elderly people’s lives. “So rather than just life span, I want to understand more about health span.”
“To understand the ageing process and ensure that we live well longer, one has to understand what goes wrong with the body as it ages,” says Centenary Executive Director, Prof Mathew Vadas AO. “To attack this problem, two things have to happen. The first is to think of ageing as a molecular—as well as a social—process, and find molecular cures for the abnormalities. So, treat ageing as we do cancer.”
“The second is to be able to test hypotheses quickly. For this we need a model organism that ages rapidly. Luckily a lowly roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans, shares many issues of ageing with humans. And it only lives two weeks.”
At Yale, Dr Kato used this roundworm to study the small snippets of RNA, called microRNAs, which bind to and adjust the output of genes. He was especially interested in their role in the regulation of lifespan and in the response to DNA damage.
He found that one microRNA, miR-34—which is very similar in roundworms and humans—is an essential component in the response to radiation damage of DNA. If you increase the level of miR-34, cells become more resistant to radiation, and if you remove miR-34, they become more sensitive. This has a potentially useful clinical spin-off. Given that controlled doses of radiation are used to destroy tumours, a means of making tumour cells more sensitive to radiation and normal cells more resistant could be very handy.
Dr Kato is now introducing his model organism, C. elegans, into the Centenary Institute so that he can extend his ageing research.
- End -
For further information contact:
§ Suzie Graham, Centenary Institute, 0418 683 166,
Full media release and backgrounder here.
Read more on the Centenary blog: centenarynews.org.au