In the 1985 movie Cocoon, a group of elderly retirement-home residents find that their youthful energy has returned after they swim in a pool inhabited by aliens’ cocoons. Until now, turning back the clock has been confined to the realm of science fiction. But in a report published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine, a team of U.S. doctors said that when they injected 12 men between the ages of 61 and 81 with synthetic human growth hormone over a sixmonth period, some of the effects of aging were reversed. Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee emphasized that the results were preliminary and that the treatment could have long-term side effects. Still, Dr. Daniel Rudman, a geriatrics specialist who led the team, said the effects of the hormone “were significant.”
During the trial, the doctors injected 12 of the 21 men three times a week with the hormone, which regulates the growth of bone and muscle. The amount of hormone injected was equivalent to the quantity naturally secreted by the pituitary glands in young men. The rest of the men in the study received no injections. The report said that, at the end of the trial, the men who received human growth hormone injections had developed bodies that
in some respects resembled those of men 20 years younger. As well, the men receiving hormones had maintained their original body weights, but had about 14 per cent less body fat and about nine per cent more lean body mass than the men who did not receive injections.
Doctors have long known that the wrong amount of growth hormone can cause problems. People born with deficiencies sometimes do not grow to a normal height, while others may produce an abnormally high amount and grow to an excessive size and stature. After the Rudman report, other doctors warned that side effects of growth hormone injections could include hypertension, pains in the joints and atherosclerosis (the formation of fat deposits inside arteries). Some physicians warned that too much growth hormone might cause cancer.
Others suggest that small hormone doses may have good results without damage. Rudman said he planned to test frail elderly people to determine whether growth hormone injections would improve the quality of their day-today lives. And now that the trial is over, he added, his team will carefully monitor the men injected with the hormone to determine whether they experience a lasting improvement in body functions, with no damaging side effects.
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