British scientists say they have discovered the secret to ageing, offering new hope to sufferers of old age-related illnesses such as heart disease. Researchers from Newcastle University along with German experts from the University of Ulm have reportedly unlocked the secret as to how and why living cells grow old by discovering the biochemical pathway involved in ageing.
The study could lead to a "much better chance of making a successful attack on age-related diseases," according to the researchers.
The breakthrough could also offer an explanation as to why skin ages and provide hope that new drugs could be developed to tackle diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and remove unwanted side-affects from cancer.
However, they said that it would unlikely provide an elixir of eternal life in the near future.
"Our breakthrough means that we stand a very much better chance of making a successful attack on age-related diseases while at the same time avoiding the risk of unwanted side-effects like cancer," the Telegraph quoted Prof Tom Kirkwood, director of Newcastle University's Institute of Ageing and Health, as telling the Financial Times.
For the research, scientists used what they described as a comprehensive 'systems biology' approach, which involved complex computer modelling and experiments with genetically modified mice and cell cultures.
They examined why cells become senescent, which in this state cells stopped dividing and their tissue revealed physical signs of deterioration, from a failing heart to wrinkling skin.
The results also showed that when an ageing cell detects serious DNA damage that could be caused by general wear from life it sent out internal signals to the brain.
These distress signals trigger the cell's "mitochondria", or its tiny energy-producing power packs, to make "free radical" molecules.
This in turn informs the cell to either to destroy itself or stop dividing which is aimed at avoiding damaged DNA that can cause cancer.
It also reportedly plays down the role of telomeres, which are the protective tips on the ends of human chromosomes, which gradually become shorter as humans age.
"There has been a huge amount of speculation about how blocking telomere erosion might cure ageing and age-related diseases. The telomere story has over-promised and the biology is more complicated, Kirkwood said.
The research has been published by the journal Molecular Systems Biology.