Animal research unlocks the secrets of aging

As populations in many developed countries age an important question facing medical science is whether cognitive decline is insvitible as we age, and whether it can be presented or reversed.

Professor Carol A. Burns of the University of Arizona– who was last year awarded the prestigious Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award by the Society for Neuroscience – has written a fascinating account of what we have learned about aging and cognitive decline in recent decades. Her essay, which highlights the contribution made by animal research to advancing knowledge in this field, can be read in the September edition of The Scientist.

While developed societies face up to the challengs of an aging population, it is too easy to forget thet despite great advances in healthcare in most countries in recent decades far to many people still die from infectious diseases for which treatments are limited.  One of these diseases is human trypanosomiasis – better known as sleeping sickness – which kills tens of thousands of people every year in sub-saharan Africa, and the current standard therapy for late stage disease, an  arsenic-based medicine named melarsoprol, is highly toxic.

Now, as Understanding Animal Research report, a group of scientists based at the University of Glasgow have developed modified versions of melarsoprol that are highly effective in clearing trypanosome infection in mice, while avoiding the toxicity associated with melarosprol, publishing their findings in the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. It is to be hoped that this drug will soon be evaluated in clinical trials, as it has the potential to save many thousands of lives.

Paul Browne