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Last updated at 15:41 BST, Friday, 03 May 2013

The secret to a longer life

Summary

3 May 2013

Scientists believe they have found an area within the brain that controls the ageing process. In a series of experiments on mice, they found that changes to this region could shorten or lengthen the animal's lifespan. The study is published in the journal Nature.

Reporter:

Rebecca Morelle

Laboratory Mouse

Could this mouse help us to live longer?

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Report

The hypothalamus is a small structure located deep within the brain. It plays a critical role in controlling growth, reproduction and metabolism - but now it could hold the key to ageing too.

A team of scientists in the US looked at this region of the brain in mice. They found that blocking a chemical in this area increased the animals' lifespan. Healthy mice typically live for between 600 to 1000 days.

But the rodents in the study were living about a fifth longer without suffering problems that are common in old age, such as muscle loss or memory problems. Conversely, when the scientists boosted the substance in the hypothalamus, the animal's lifespan was shortened.

The researchers now want to fully understand the biological mechanism behind this process. They say the work could provide new insights into age-related diseases - and in the future even raise the prospect of drugs that could increase our lifespan.

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Vocabulary

a critical role

a very important part

reproduction

the process of creating new life

metabolism

how your body processes food to give energy and strength

lifespan

time that it lives for

typically

usually, normally

common

frequent, often occurring

conversely

in the opposite way

boosted

increased

biological mechanism

what happens inside the body, the way the body functions

the prospect

the possibility

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