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National Institute of Health Funds grants to Ohio U for studying increasing human lifespan

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Clinical study on mice could potentially lead to better health and life span benefits for humans through the use of hormones

The National Institute of Health granted Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine $2.23 million to study the possibility of extending the human lifespan.

The research study is a continuation of Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar and Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology John Kopchick’s work with growth hormone molecules, which he began at Ohio U in the 1990s.

“This was discovered here and developed here at Ohio University, and we’re very proud that,” Kopchick said.

Kopchick’s early research led to the discovery of a growth hormone receptor antagonist drug, pegvisomant, which treats patients with growth hormone disorders or acromegaly.

Clinical trials of pegvisomant were conducted on mice and involved engineering a strain of mouse with inhibited growth hormone genes. This, in turn, left the mice as dwarfs and more obese. Surprisingly, they lived longer than a normal mouse. In fact, one of these mice holds the world record for oldest lab mouse and is used worldwide by scientists studying aging. 

Kopchick said if a human is obese, they may become insulin resistant, pre-diabetic or diabetic, and more prone to cancer. However, the engineered, obese mice were resistant to these diseases on account of inhibited growth hormones. 

As a result of these findings, Kopchick and his team aim to better understand health-span and lifespan with this new research project through the mice.

The project has two goals: to block growth hormone receptors in six-month-old mice — the human equivalent of a young adult — and see if they live healthier, longer lives, and to do more research into the longest-lived lab mouse. They will also experiment with rapamycin, a drug that may promote a subtle, but significant effect on longevity in the mice.

This could potentially lead to a drug for humans that prevents growth receptors from working in people after a certain age, without necessarily removing growth receptors. With this drug, Kopchick said that humans could live healthier, longer lives free of life threatening diseases.

“This increases health span, because if you’re not dying from diabetes or cancer, those are two big killers, and that should in turn make you live longer,” Kopchick said.

The grant was awarded to fund five years of research; if the findings are successful, Kopchick and his team will encourage pharmaceutical companies to conduct clinical trials on humans.

Editor’s Note: Previously, this article included an inaccurate description of Kopchick’s work and has been edited for clarity.

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