People are willing to shell out a lot of money in their quest to find the ultimate anti-aging treatment. According to Zion Market Research, more than $216 billion will be spent worldwide by 2021 on products that promise to make us more youthful. Researchers at Houston Methodist University have found a way to slow down aging in our cells, which could lead to new advancements in keeping us young and healthy.

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For their research, scientists focused on developing a treatment for children with a rare genetic disorder that causes premature aging known as progeria. The disease typically presents itself within the first year of a child’s life as seen by symptoms including hair loss and slow growth. Many adolescents with progeria will only live to about 13 years old due to heart problems or strokes.

Dr. John P. Cooke, M.D., Ph.D., department chair of cardiovascular sciences at Houston Methodist, studied the cells of kids with progeria, specifically looking at the telomeres. Located at the end of chromosomes, these structures shorten with age, which is associated with diseases like cancer and a higher risk of death. As the children in the study had shorter telomeres, the researchers hoped that lengthening them could essentially slow how quickly the cells aged and improve overall function.

The team gave the cells ribonucleic acid to make a protein that lengthened the telomere, known as telomerase. This longer structure helps cells work better and allows them to live longer.

"We all have telomere erosion over time, and many of the things that happen to these children at an accelerated pace occur in all of us," said Cooke in a statement. "What we've shown is that when we reverse the process of the telomere shortening in the cells from these children and lengthen them, it can reverse a lot of the problems associated with aging."

Researchers are hopeful that the new discovery would lead to delaying many age-related diseases like cancer or heart problems.

"As a physician, many of the diseases I see are due to aging. It's a major risk factor for heart and vascular diseases," Cooke said. "About a third of the people in this country succumb to strokes and heart attacks. If we can fix that, we'll fix a lot of diseases."

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Unfortunately, there is no way way to reverse years of damage, either caused by the environment or habits, or to stop aging completely. But this research could provide new hope for families whose children have progeria disease as well as slow the aging process for everyone.

"We can at least stall or slow down accelerated aging, and that's what we're working toward," Cooke said.

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