By Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog

The questions of how we age and how our bodies know what to do during that process have puzzled scientists for years. The answers lie in our biological clocks, which aren’t fully understood. Some scientists think that if we can learn how our biological clocks work, we would hold the key to slowing down or even reversing aging.

A group from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) achieved astounding results that offer insight into the mechanisms of aging. They used existing sets of data to compare DNA patterns in normal and cancerous tissue samples from humans. They examined almost 8,000 samples from more than 50 different people that were taken from various places in or on the body. This allowed them to take a comprehensive look at the changes that occur throughout the body during the aging process and how tissues of the body keep time.

Most, but not all, tissues had a biological age that matched their chronological age. The biological age of a tissue is the age it appears to be or behaves at. Chronological age is just a person’s overall age.

For example, women’s breast tissues age much faster than the rest of their bodies. In a healthy woman, breast tissues had a biological age two to three years older than the woman’s age. In a woman who had breast cancer, the cancer cells were an astounding 36 years older than the rest of her body! And even the healthy tissues surrounding those cancer cells were affected – they were up to 12 years older than the rest of the body. Maybe this age difference explains why breast cancer is so prevalent in women.

The results also show that biological clocks do not run at a constant rate. The clock advances much faster from birth through adolescence. When we reach our 20s the clock slows to a steadier rate.

Stem cells, cells that are basically clean slates and can develop into any type of cell in the body, are age zero according to the biological clock. This makes sense since embryos and umbilical cords have stem cells. So, if adult cells can be reprogrammed into stem cells, their biological clocks could potentially be reset as well. Could this be the key to being forever young?

This discovery could possibly reverse the aging process, a scientific Fountain of Youth. But first, the actual connection between the biological clock and aging still needs to be defined more precisely. Then we can move on to questions like whether slowing the aging process also reduces the incidence of cancerous diseases.

Medical Discovery News is a weekly radio and print broadcast highlighting medical and scientific breakthroughs hosted by professor emeritus Norbert Herzog and professor David Niesel, biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.