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Research Communications

Ohio University receives $1.7 million grant to study science of aging 

Researchers collaborate on $8.6 million National Institutes of Health project 

Sept. 21, 2009

Ohio University researchers have received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to learn more about the science of why we age.

The grant, one of the largest NIH awards received by Ohio University, is part of a larger, $8.6 million cooperative initiative that includes researchers at Southern Illinois University, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The scientists hope to determine the impact of growth hormone on longevity.

The project has its roots at Ohio University, where researchers at the Edison Biotechnology Institute have created the world's longest-living mouse. At five years of age, the critter has survived 2 1/2 times longer than its litter mates. The secret? Scientists have blocked the animal's ability to use growth hormone, said John Kopchick, the Goll Ohio Professor of Molecular Biology at the Edison Biotechnology Institute and professor of biomedical sciences in the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. 

"Though the mouse is smaller and fatter than the average rodent, it survives much longer than normal mice and is free of disease," he said. "This is in direct contrast to the conventional wisdom that obesity shortens your life."

Scientists in 20 countries have since requested the mouse's offspring for use in studies on aging, Kopchick reported.

The project stems from a finding Kopchick and colleagues made 20 years ago, when they determined a mechanism to block the body's growth hormone receptors. The research became the platform for a novel class of compounds called Growth Hormone Receptor Antagonists. Somavert, an FDA-approved drug derived from this compound, is marketed by Pfizer for use in the treatment of acromegaly. Acromegaly is a form of gigantism in which high levels of growth hormone create abnormal organ and bone growth, which causes medical complications that can lead to premature death.

Continued research on growth hormone antagonists by Kopchick and his team led to the discovery of the oldest-living mouse, he said.

Though growth hormone is often viewed by the lay public as an anti-aging compound -- it's sometimes prescribed to the elderly for improved muscle tone -- laboratory studies show that too much growth hormone in mice and humans can shorten lifespan, said Ed List, a researcher at the Edison Biotechnology Institute involved with the research.

With the new funding from the NIH, Kopchick, List and Darlene Berryman, an Ohio University associate professor of human and consumer sciences, will examine how inhibiting the growth hormone receptor in specific tissue types -- the liver, muscle and white adipose tissue -- impacts longevity, and if there are any negative health effects.

"If you remove growth hormone's action from only those particular tissues, what would happen to the body composition of the mice? Would they still be fat? Would the mice live longer?" Kopchick said. "If any of these mice happen to live longer, then that's the tissue we will aggressively study."

The five-year study may help shed more light on the genetic factors that contribute to aging, he said. In addition, it could have implications for Kopchick's related research on the impact of growth hormone on diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Contact: John Kopchick: (740) 593-4534, kopchick@ohio.edu; Andrea Gibson, (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu.