CHICAGO -- A major anti-aging study has been launched to determine if three particular hormones can rejuvenate frail elderly men. It is being undertaken by Milwaukee researchers who 18 months ago first showed that human growth hormone can reverse important aspects of the aging process.
The Milwaukee study, along with a number of similar studies involving both women and men, is part of a crash program initiated since then by the federal government to learn if replacement of key hormones that decline with age can maintain older people in vigorous good health.
"It's one of the priority issues in gerontology right now," says team leader Dr. Daniel Rudman of the Medical College of Wisconsin. "It's clear that the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration want these questions to be answered during the coming five years.
"If the benefits are substantial, and if the side effects are minor, then correcting hormone deficiencies will revolutionize the care of hundreds of thousands of older people within the decade," says Dr. Rudman, who is associate chief of staff for extended care at the Milwaukee Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The $1 million study, which is funded primarily by the National Institute on Aging, is seeking 150 volunteers -- debilitated male veterans over the age of 60 -- who will be required to live at the Milwaukee VA center for 1 1/2 to 4 years.
Because the study is being done at the VA center, it is restricted to men. However, Dr. Rudman says, the basic findings should apply to women as well.
Besides receiving human growth hormone, which comes from the pituitary gland at the base of the brain, volunteers will be given either the male sex hormone testosterone, or DHEA, produced by the adrenal gland. DHEA is considered a master hormone because it is converted into many other hormones that help maintain the body.
The three hormones are called trophic or growth hormones because they play an essential role in maintaining body structure, through muscles and bones, and body function, through the performance of major organs.
These hormones typically decline as people grow older.
At the age of 65, the average person can look forward to living about two more decades, but only half that time will be spent in independent, active living, Dr. Rudman says.
"Our goal is to make those two decades healthy and active ones," he says.