December 19, 2013
Scientists Develop Chemical That May Stop Aging Process
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Through working with tiny cell structures called mitochondria, scientists may have unlocked one of the secrets of the aging process.
According to a new study in the journal Cell, researchers found a sequence of molecular events that foster intracellular communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus. As this communication breaks down, the aging process speeds up.
"The aging process we discovered is like a married couple – when they are young, they communicate well, but over time, living in close quarters for many years, communication breaks down," said David Sinclair, a professor at Harvard Medical School. "And just like a couple, restoring communication solved the problem.”
The study team said their findings could also be used to treat cancer, type 2 diabetes and other diseases.
Previous studies have shown how a chemical named NAD starts this communication cascade between the nucleus and mitochondria and levels of this chemical decline as we age. In the new study, the scientists used a compound that cells converted into NAD to fix the communications network and quickly re-establish both communication and mitochondrial function. Previous efforts have only been able to slow the decline of NAD through diet and exercise.
Study researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) performed their research on animal models to demonstrate the effectiveness of their novel compound.
"It was shocking how quickly it happened," said Nigel Turner, a pharmacologist from UNSW. "If the compound is administered early enough in the aging process, in just a week, the muscles of the older mice were indistinguishable from the younger animals."
The researchers also found two-year-old mice performed well on metrics for insulin resistance and inflammation – both of which are symptoms for aging. The older treated mice were compared with six-month-old rodents.
"It was a very pronounced effect," Turner said. "It's something like a 60-year-old being similar to a 20-year-old on some measures."
Turner added the younger mice given the compound were "supercharged above normal level" on certain metrics. "So it is possible this would have benefits in healthy, young humans."
The research also showed how a molecule known as HIF-1, which has a role in cancer, switches on during aging and disrupts cellular communication. The researchers said this finding could explain why the greatest risk of cancer is related to age.
"We become cancer-like in our [aging] process," Sinclair said. "Nobody has linked cancer and [aging] like this before.
"There's clearly much more work to be done here, but if these results stand, then many aspects of aging may be reversible if caught early," Sinclair added.
The study team said they are currently looking at the longer-term results of the NAD-producing compound in lab mice and how the compound holistically affects them. The scientists said they are also looking into whether their novel compound can safely treat mitochondrial diseases or other diseases such as diabetes.
Researchers in the Sinclair lab have been studying the science of aging for years, mostly looking at a group of genes called sirtuins. A previous study from the lab had found one of these genes, SIRT1, was activated by a compound called resveratrol, which is found in red wine and certain nuts.