Bruce Frankel

Author of the new book "What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life."

Aging Reversed In Mice: Is Immortality Next?

November 30, 2010

Movie audiences thought it was a gripping fantasy when Brad Pitt aged backwards in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But now a study by geneticist Ronald DePinho suggests that aging really can be reversed by reactivating an enzyme that protects the tips of chromosomes.

Call it The Curious Case of Telomerase.


Mice engineered to lack the enzyme telomerase become prematurely decrepit: barely fertile and suffering from age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes and neurodegeneration.

But when telomerase was switched back on, shriveled testes grew back to normal, the abnormal animals regained fertility, and organs, such as the spleen, liver, and intestines, were rejuvenated and they grew larger brains with more neural activity, report researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“What really caught us by surprise was the dramatic reversal of the effects we saw in these animals,” says senior author Dr. Ronald A. DePinho. He describes the outcome as “a near ‘Ponce de Leon’ effect” — a reference to the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who went in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth.


The finding, published online today in Nature1, hints that some disorders characterized by early aging could be treated by boosting telomerase activity.

It also offers the possibility that normal human aging could be slowed by reawakening the enzyme in cells where it has stopped working, says DePinho. He says that the study indicates that there is a “point of return” in aging, adding, “This has implications for thinking about telomerase as a serious anti-aging intervention.”

Other scientists caution that mice lacking telomerase are a poor stand-in for the normal ageing process. And in humans, they say, ramping up telomerase could encourage the growth of tumours.

Since its discovery in the 1980s, telomerase has been heralded as a potential fountain of youth.

Here’s how it works: Chromosomes have caps of repetitive DNA called telomeres at their ends. Every time cells divide, their telomeres shorten, which eventually prompts them to stop dividing and die. Telomerase prevents this decline in some kinds of cells, including stem cells, by lengthening telomeres, and the hope was that activating the enzyme could slow cellular aging.

Researchers now realize that the role of telomerase in aging is complex than first thought. Some studies have uncovered an association between short telomeres and early death, whereas others have failed to back up this link. People with rare diseases characterized by shortened telomeres or telomerase mutations seem to age prematurely, although some tissues are more affected than others.

DePinho’s team genetically engineered mice with inactivated telomerase that could be switched back on by feeding the mice a chemical called 4-OHT. The researchers allowed the mice to grow to adulthood without the enzyme, then reactivated it for a month. They assessed the health of the mice another month later.

Mice with restored telomerase activity had noticeably larger brains than animals still lacking the enzyme, and neural progenitor cells, which produce new neurons and supporting brain cells, started working again.

“It gives us a sense that there’s a point of return for age-associated disorders,” says DePinho. Drugs that ramp up telomerase activity are worth pursuing as a potential treatment for rare disorders characterized by premature ageing, he says, and perhaps even for more common age-related conditions.

He says he recognizes that there is more to ageing than shortened telomeres, particularly late in life, but argues that telomerase therapy could one day be combined with other therapies that target the biochemical pathways of ageing. “This may be one of several things you need to do in order to extend lifespan and extend healthy living,” he says.

Filed under: (0) CommentsPermalink

Happy Birthday Alice Herz-Sommer, 107, Oldest Holocaust Survivor

November 26, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a 12-minute trailer for “Dancing Under the Gallows”, a film about pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Her astonishing spirit captivated tens of thousands of viewers.


Now, as Alice celebrates her 107th birthday today, November 26th, take a moment and send her birthday wishes at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Many have written to express their disappointment that the original trailer has been removed from the web. I’m sorry, but that’s out of my control. Below is a shorter, still amazing look at Alice in her London flat.

” title=“alice herz-sommer”>

Here’s a photo of Alice and her son Raphael:


Please see the original post for “Dancing Under the Gallows” .

Dick Goldberg Comes of Age; Helps Boomers Find Meaningful Work

November 17, 2010

Playwright Dick Goldberg doesn’t get too dramatic about his transition six years ago from penning scripts for Hollywood to directing of Coming of Age, a burgeoning national initiative to help people 50 and up explore their futures and commit themselves to civic engagement.

At 57, Goldberg is equally self-effacing about being named one of eighteen 2010 Wells Fargo Second Half Champions for individuals doing new and extraordinary things after 50.
In his case, that has meant going from writing plays like the off-Broadway hit Family Business,TV episodes for Kate and Allie and McGyver, and films like The Imagemaker to overseeing Coming of Age’s website and promoting the non-profit organization’s mission in Philadelphia and nationwide.

The organization—with its goal to help people find paid and volunteer opportunities to help other non-profits—is flourishing.

And this is clearly what excites Goldberg about his story. “We’ve tapped into people’s imagination,” he says. “There’s a new way to age. And the new way to age is to be engaged and connect with other people, and to really make a difference in a substantive way.”

Since he took over in 2004, Coming of Age has been replicated in five other locations, including San Francisco, Kansas City, and Austin. Another affiliate is now forming for New York City. In Philadelphia alone, some 25,000 people have become engaged in work helping non-profits.

(watch the video)
Dick Goldberg

Goldberg’s career swap began when his children were going off to college a decade ago. With increasingly more free time on his hands, he began volunteering to use his talents as a writer to help organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, Planned Parenthood, and the The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to raise money.

“Instead of entertaining people, I was making a difference,” Goldberg said.

Then, in 2004, when Goldberg confessed to his daughter, Rosa, how satisfying his new activities were, she recommended that he look for a job on There, he found an ad that read: “Get Baby Boomers to volunteer to help others. It had my name written all over it,” he said.

The idea for the organization was brainchild of Nancy Henkin,  the founder and director of the The Intergenerational Center at Temple University, and representatives of PBS/NPR station WHYY, AARP Pennsylvania, and United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, who attended a conference in San Francisco sponsored by Civic Ventures in 2001.

Launched in 2002, Coming of Age didn’t really take off until after Goldberg was hired two years later. In addition to the resource of its website, it offers classes, workshops and leads for people making plans to find work engaged in their communities.

The organization’s growth is “of itself very important,” he says. “An underlying issue is demonstrating the resource that older people represent for our society. The more they are active in different locations with different activities, more of it will happen. That fulfills the mission of the organization to get older people to be seen as an asset, to be used as an asset, and to feel really good about that.”


Filed under: News • (0) CommentsPermalink

Red States: Protecting Against Dementia and Overcoming Post-Election Blues

November 4, 2010

Okay, as long as we’re talking about red states, we need to consider the benefit of the non-partisan beet. Perhaps, it’s even time for President and Michelle Obama to reconsider ruing the vegetable.

I’ll get to the political analysis later. First, the news:

Researchers recently reported that eating beets increases blood flow in the brains of older adults and may help combat the progression of dementia.


As we age, some areas of the brain often develop an inadequate blood flow. In the lexicon of science, they are poorly perfused. While several high-profile studies have previously shown that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure (which many of us might have benefited from on Tuesday night), a study at Wake Forest University’s Translational Science Center, had another objective. Said center director Daniel Kim-Shapiro, “We wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain.”

Researchers were already aware of one aspect of why beets are beneficial. High concentrations of nitrates are found in beets, as well as in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach and some lettuce. When you eat high-nitrate foods, good bacteria in the mouth turn nitrate into nitrite. Nitrites can help open up the blood vessels in the body, increasing blood flow and oxygen specifically to places that are lacking oxygen.

In the Wake Forest study, available online in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, researchers looked at how dietary nitrates affected 14 adults age 70 and older over a period of four days. They found, for the first time, a link between consumption of nitrate-rich beet juice and increased blood flow to the brain. 

To conduct the study, for the first two mornings, subjects reported to the lab after a 10-hour fast and were given either a high- or low-nitrate breakfast. The high-nitrate breakfast included 16 ounces of beet juice. Each subject was sent home with diets conforming to an assigned diet. On the second day, an MRI recorded the blood flow in each subject’s brain one hour after breakfast.  Blood tests before and after breakfast confirmed nitrite levels in the body.

Researchers switched the diets and repeated the process for each subject on the third and fourth days.

Strikingly, the MRIs showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes—the areas of the brain commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive conditions.

Earlier studies at the Harvard University-affiliated McLean Hospital found that the natural substances found in certain foods work as well as prescription antidepressants at preventing depression and making people feel happy.

Those natural substances are omega-3 fatty acids and uridine, and in experiments with rats, they were just as effective as three different prescription antidepressants in preventing signs of depression. In other words, eat these foods and you’ll be happier. Sugar beets are among the top five foods rich in these substances. The others are salmon, herring, walnuts, and beet molasses.

The study used a well-established animal model of depression. Rats were placed in a tank of water where they were forced to swim. They soon realized that swimming was futile, so they just gave up and floated, a sign that they were surrendering to depression. When the rats were given an injection of an antidepressant drug or combined doses of omega-3 fatty acids and uridine, they started swimming again. Interestingly, the mixture of natural substances proved as effective as three different prescription antidepressants—Norpramin, Prozac, and Celexa—in prompting the rats to begin swimming again.

According to study leader William Carlezon, director of McLean’s Behavioral Genetics Laboratory, the brains of the rats that stopped swimming were basically running out of energy, produced by mitochondria, for brain cells. The omega-3 fatty acids and uridine fixed that.  “Basically, we were giving the brain more fuel on which to run.” 

Hmmm! Remember when First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the White House garden and it was widely celebrated by advocates of organic and local foods. It was reported that the garden would include 55 varieties of vegetables, including red romaine, green oak leaf, butter head, red leaf and galactic lettuces, spinach, chard, collards and black kale, shallots, shell peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, fennel, and rhubarb and onions.

But because neither President nor Michelle Obama like them, beets were excluded and a protest ensued around the blogosphere. But the Obamas did not back down. A month ago, in the Ladies Home Journal, the First Lady brought her own brand of science to the debate, saying,  “I am a believer there is a beet gene—people who love beets love them and people who hate beets hate them. Neither the President nor I have the beet gene.”

Listen up, Democrats, I say. Eat your beets!

Beet spritzers may be a good way to start. Here’s a recipe from (the source of the photo). Vodka is, of course, optional.

1 part beet juice
2 parts cranberry juice
1 part soda water

Filed under: Neuroscience • (0) CommentsPermalink