Global Technology - August 2018

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Now, let’s examine the most important technological and scientific breakthroughs emerging from labs around the world.

Sooner or later, every cell and every organism ages.  But why is this so?  Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg have now discovered for the first time a protein that represents a central switching point in the aging process.  It controls the life span of every individual — from the fly to the human being.  This opens up new possibilities for developing therapies against age-related diseases.

Oxidative stress causes cells and entire organisms to age.  If reactive oxygen species accumulate, this causes damage to the DNA as well as changes in the protein molecules and lipids in the cell.  The cell ultimately loses its functionality and dies.  Over time, the tissue suffers and the body ages.  The theory of oxidative stress or the accumulationof reactive oxygen species as the cause of aging has existed since the 1950s.  So far, however, the details of this process have been unclear.

In fact, reactive oxygen species do more than just damage the body.  For example, they are essential for the T-cells of the immune system to become active. The German researchers have now discovered the key regulator that is responsible for shifting the sensitive balance from vital to harmful amounts of reactive oxygen molecules and thus accelerating the aging process:  A protein molecule called TXNIP (or thioredoxin-interacting protein).

One way in which the body disposes of harmful reactive oxygen species is their conversion by the enzyme thioredoxin-1 (TRX-1). TRX-1 has been proven to play a role in protecting DNA from oxidative stress and slowing down aging processes. Its antagonist TXNIP inhibits thioredoxin-1 and thus ensures that the reactive oxygen molecules are retained.

The researchers now wanted to know whether more TXNIP is formed in the body with increasing age, thereby undermining the protective mechanism against oxidative stress.  To this end, they first compared T cells from the blood of a group of over fifty-five-year-old volunteers with the T cells of younger blood donors, who were between twenty and twenty-five-years old. In fact, it turned out that...

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