Science

Cause of aging reversed in mice: Human trials may start next year

By restoring communication between a cell’s mitochondria (shown here from a mammalian lung) and nucleus, researchers have reversed aging in mice
By restoring communication between a cell’s mitochondria (shown here from a mammalian lung) and nucleus, researchers have reversed aging in mice
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Micrograph showing ragged red fibres as seen in mitochondrial diseases. Source: Wikipedia
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Micrograph showing ragged red fibres as seen in mitochondrial diseases. Source: Wikipedia
By restoring communication between a cell’s mitochondria (shown here from a mammalian lung) and nucleus, researchers have reversed aging in mice
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By restoring communication between a cell’s mitochondria (shown here from a mammalian lung) and nucleus, researchers have reversed aging in mice

With the wide-ranging benefits of reducing disease and enabling a longer, healthier life, reversing the causes of aging is a major focus of much medical research. A joint project between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and Harvard Medical School that restored communication within animal cells has the potential to do just that, and maybe more. With the researchers hoping to begin human clinical trials in 2014, some major medical breakthroughs could be just around the corner.

The researchers have managed to reverse the effects of aging in mice using an approach that restores communication between a cell’s mitochondria and nucleus. Mitochondria are the power supply within the cell, generating the chemical energy required for key biological functions. When communication breaks down between mitochondria and the cell's control center, the nucleus, the effects of aging accelerate.

A team led by David Sinclair, a professor from UNSW Medicine who is based at Harvard Medical School, found that by restoring this molecular communication, aging could not only be slowed, but could be reversed. The technique has implications for treating cancer, type 2 diabetes, muscle wasting, inflammatory and mitochondrial diseases.

The study follows on from previous research showing that exercise and certain dietary habits, such as calorie restriction or the intake of resveratrol (found in red wine and nuts), slowed the breakdown of intra-cellular communication and therefore aging.

Responsible for this breakdown is a decline of the chemical NAD. By increasing amounts of a compound used by the cell to produce NAD, Professor Sinclair found that he could quickly repair mitochondrial function.

“It was shocking how quickly it happened,” co-author Dr Nigel Turner, an ARC Future Fellow from UNSW’s Department of Pharmacology says. “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."

Looking for indicators of insulin resistance, inflammation and muscle wasting, the researchers found that the tissue of two-year-old mice given the NAD-producing compound for just one week resembled that of six-month-old mice. They said that this is comparable to a 60-year-old human converting to a 20-year-old in these specific areas.

They also found that young mice given the same compound became "supercharged" in certain aspects, suggesting that the technique could have benefits for young, healthy humans as well.

Another significant finding, with possible implications for cancer treatment, was the involvement of the chemical HIF-1. This chemical is responsible for the disruption of communication within the cell and is naturally produced by the body when deprived of oxygen. Cancer is also thought to be responsible for activating HIF-1 and the researchers have now found it also switches on during aging.

“It’s certainly significant to find that a molecule that switches on in many cancers also switches on during aging,” said Ana Gomes, a postdoctoral scientist in the Sinclair lab. “We're starting to see now that the physiology of cancer is in certain ways similar to the physiology of aging. Perhaps this can explain why the greatest risk of cancer is age.”

The researchers are now looking at the longer-term outcomes of the NAD-producing compound in mice and how it affects the mouse as a whole, including whether it will give the mice a longer, healthier life. The researchers hope to start clinical trials on humans late in 2014.

“There’s clearly much more work to be done here, but if those results stand, then aging may be a reversible condition, if it is caught early,” says Professor Sinclair.

The team's study is published in the journal Cell.

Source: UNSW, Harvard Medical School

25 comments
Gadgeteer
“There’s clearly much more work to be done here, but if those results stand, then aging may be a reversible condition, IF IT IS CAUGHT EARLY,” Oh, sure. Spend the whole article building up my hopes then stomp them all into the ground. Hey, old fogeys need this more than young pups do.
limbodog
"IF IT IS CAUGHT EARLY." If what is caught early? Aging? "Doctor, what is it, am I going to be ok? " "No, Timmy, it appears you've got a case of Age. There's no known cure. I'm sorry, if only we had seen this coming." In any case, I guarantee that right this very moment, human trials have begun using a number of very wealthy octogenarians.
donwine
That is just what we need - mice that live forever! The sentence of death was written into the genetic code of every human cell. Looks like you have a lot of work ahead.
Jimbo Jones
Hahaha, I was just going to begin with that quote also, Gadgeteer. All was starting my engines until that ending. I was ready to sign up NOW.
JAT
Hey, if this stuff could knock even 10 years off my 70 yo body it would be a blessing. I'd feel a whole lot better and have more energy...
dandrews1138
It would be amazing if this turned out to be a cure for progeria. Of course, I'd love for my 47 year old body to start working better too, but allowing ill kids to live normal lives is a bit more important.
Steven Greer
Ray Kurzweil must be either behind this research or losing his mind with joy over this news. "Breathe Ray... breathe!!" But seriously, not sure how I feel about this. Considering that I have Type 2 Diabetes, I like the idea of some targeted age regression of course... but the possibilities for overpopulation (I can't help but call to mind all the apocalyptic dystopian scenarios from popular fiction) are disconcerting.
Art Toegemann
Read the same at The Guardian yesterday. Comments were closed. Here's one that made it: NADH, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) hydrogen (H) is already available over the counter at reasonable prices and is likely just as effective as NAD itself. Note that this study is being conducted by universities and is not being undertaken by the pharmaceutical industry as there is no patent. The $50,000/day price tag is likely highly exaggerated.
Observer101
Can I sign up? I'm not getting any younger…. YET! Really, I'd give it a try….I'm in my 60's, good shape, and fearing a future of cancer, and old age…. SO, I am ready for NAD!
Mirmillion
Considering the fact that we've lost more than a decade to the effects of the global financial meltdown, it would be nice to see the power of compound growth applied to a longer lived population - only fair really.
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