Could The Secret To A Longer Life Lie In Your Ovaries?

Illustration by Ly Ngo.
Our ovaries may hold the key to a longer life and better health as we age. At least, that is according to recent research on ovary transplants in mice.

A recent study found that swapping older ovaries for younger ones can increase longevity and reduce the risk of developing age-related health problems, such as a weakened immune system and heart disease.

While the research wasn't conducted on humans, it holds out the possibility that post-menopausal women could live longer and have better health as they age, thereby boosting their quality of life.

Ovaries produce the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, as well as producing and releasing eggs during our menstrual cycle.

Professor Jeffrey Mason, a scientist at Utah State University, said it could be possible to grow new ovaries by removing small clumps of cells from a woman before she reaches menopause. These could then replace her old ovaries as she ages, he said.

"Our goal is to make people healthy through their lifespan and have people playing soccer with their great grandchildren.

He added: "I think this research is moving so fast it is a real possibility and I cannot see any major roadblocks," reported the Daily Mirror.

Professor Mason and his team removed the ovaries of ten 12-month-old mice that had been through oestropause, which is similar to the human menopause, the New Scientist reported.

The researchers replaced these with ovaries taken from mice that were 60 days old, an age roughly equivalent to people in their early twenties.

After four months, he tested the mice's immune systems and metabolisms and found that they were similar to those of younger mice.

Middle-aged mice with young ovaries also live about 40% longer and have healthier hearts than their peers, the scientists found.

The same benefits were also found when the hormone-producing cells were removed from the young ovaries before they were transplanted into the older mice. As such, Professor Mason said other cells inside the ovary could be responsible for the health benefits.

The average mouse lives for 650 days but Professor Mason's oldest mouse with younger ovaries is now more than 1,000 days old and looks as young as a mouse half its age, the Daily Mirror reported.

Mason said that when his team carries out post mortems on the rejuvenated mice after they die, their internal organs "are as healthy as a mouse half their age".

"What is surprising is that they die, because they are so youthful," he added. "We think that even though we have reversed the ageing process and given what appears to be eternal youth there is still something in their genes that causes them to eventually die.

"But they die very fit and in the rudest of health with no signs of the diseases of old age. This holds out a potentially rosy future for older women in the future."

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