Life science research has brought us the realization that one does not simply “age.” In the eyes of biotechnology researchers, the aging of the human body is a complicated, multifaceted process made up of several subprocesses. Some of these subprocesses can be delayed, stopped and even reversed. We saw one such example last month with a UCLA study on cell autophagy. Today, researchers from Ohio State University bring us another aspect of aging and show that it is reversible.
Joanne Turner is an associate professor of microbial infection and immunity at OSU. She compares the lungs of old mice to young mice to determine what “old age” in the lungs translates to biologically. In her most recent study, she studied the ability of the mice to fight off tuberculosis bacteria in the lungs. As expected, the old mice had a more difficult time fending off the infection, but Turner noticed something strange: the immune system of the old mice was spending all of its energy fighting inflammation in the lungs, which was giving TB the chance to prosper.
In order to further investigate this inflammation, Turner tried the simplest solution first: administer ibuprofen to lessen the inflammation. To her surprise, reducing the inflammation allowed the immune system of the older mice to perform on par with the younger mice. “Essentially, ibuprofen made the lungs of old mice look young,” Turner explains in an OSU press release. “Putting young mice on ibuprofen had no effect because they had no lung inflammation, which implies the ibuprofen reduced the inflammation and changed the immune response in the old mice,” she adds.
Curious as to what this meant for humans, Turner and her team researched the similarities between mouse and human lungs. They found that as both mammals age, they develop pro-inflammatory proteins that inhibit the immune system. Currently, the team is working on a more specialized way to reduce this inflammation; until then, Turner doesn’t recommend that elderly people simply take more ibuprofen. “You can actually reduce your inflammation as you age by being lean, eating well and exercising. And we know that in the elderly, people who are fitter live longer.”
This work was supported by a Julie Martin Mid-Career Award from the American Federation for Aging Research, the Ohio State University Public Health Preparedness for Infectious Diseases Pilot Award and Ohio State’s College of Medicine Systems and Integrative Biology Training Program. For more details on the funding for research at Ohio State University, peruse our Ohio State University Funding Report:
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