In what could be a significant anti-aging breakthrough, researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands have discovered a molecule that could restore the stamina, coat of fur, and in some cases, even organ function in elderly laboratory mice.
According to BBC News, Dr. Peterde Keizer and his colleagues discovered that by using a specific type of peptide (a short chain of amino acid monomers linked by covalent chemical bonds), they could reverse aspects of aging by flushing out cells which no longer divide.
Specifically, as the study authors reported Thursday in the journal Cell, they used a modified FOXO4-p53 interfering peptide to combat retired or “senescent” cells that tend to accumulate with age and have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and other conditions.
De Keizer’s team was reportedly studying how these senescent cells manage to survive when they made a startling discovery: while these damaged cells should be cleared out of the body by a protein called p53, a second protein, FOX04, was preventing that process from happening.
The FOX04 protein, explained Science, latched onto the p53 protein and kept it from doing its job. However, De Keizer’s team designed a new peptide that carried a shortened segment of the FOX04 protein. Doing so would keep the second protein from preventing p53 from doing its job, allowing senescent cells to die off normally while causing no harm to healthy cells.
Experts call it ‘a landmark advance’ while urging caution
The researchers tested the peptide by injecting it into mice that were genetically altered to age rapidly and found that the molecule increased the density of their fur, allowed them to run in an exercise wheel for longer periods of time, and even reversed early signs of kidney damage.
Next, they tested the molecule in normal elderly mice and found similar results – it helped their fur and kidney function, and even made them more willing to explore their surroundings, Science explained. De Keizer told BBC News that they found no evidence of side effects and believe that the peptide would have little to no effect on normal, healthy tissues.
He and his colleagues said that they are hopeful that the treatment will have similar benefits in humans, and that they are planning to conduct human trials sometime in the near future. Stem cell scientist Dr. Dusko Ilic of King’s College London told BBC News that the work was “impossible to dismiss,” it was “better to be reserved” until “more high-quality research is done.”
“It’s definitely a landmark advance in the field,” cell and molecular biologist Francis Rodier of the University of Montreal in Quebec, who like Dr. Ilic was not involved in the study, added in an interview with Science. “This is the first time that somebody has shown that you can get rid of senescent cells without having any obvious side effects.”
Image credit: Britta Campion