The cause of aging has been reversed in mice and human clinical trials are expected to take place as early as next year. It’s possible that medical breakthroughs in the eternal search to slow down or turn back aging in humans might be just around the corner, if the human clinical trials that will be conducted as a joint project between the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Harvard Medical School in 2014 go well.
The joint efforts of the two groups of researchers has managed to restore the communication between the nucleus and mitochondria in mouse cells, which reverses the effects of aging in the mice. When the communication between the mitochondria (the power supply of cells) and nuclei (the control center) of cells breaks down, then aging is accelerated. The researchers theorized that restoring this communication would result in reversing the effects of aging.
David Sinclair, a professor from UNSW Medicine, discovered that when this communication was restored, aging in mouse cells was not only slowed but it also was possible to reverse it.
This breakthrough in restoring the communication between a cell’s nucleus and mitochondria could revolutionize how ailments like type 2 diabetes, cancer, inflammatory and mitochondrial diseases, and muscle wasting are treated in the near future.
Professor Sinclair’s latest study follows his previous research on the slowing down of the breakdown in communication between the mitochondria and nuclei of muscle cells in mice. That previous study involved using exercise and dietary and calorie restrictions to increase the compound a cell uses to produce NAD. Increasing the production of NAD, Sinclair found, would repair the function of a cell’s mitochondria and help restore communication between it and the nuclei of cells.
According to the study’s coauthor, Dr. Nigel Turner, an ARC Future Fellow from UNSW’s Department of Pharmacology, if the compound was given to the mice “early enough in the aging process,” in a very brief span of time — about seven days — the difference in the muscles of the older mice couldn’t be distinguished from those of the younger mice.
The researchers gave two-year-old mice the compound that helps cells produce NAD. After a week, the mice resembled ones which were just six months old. According to the researchers, this would be like a 60-year-old human going back in time to being just 20 years old. The muscle strength of the two-year-old mice did not improve, but the researchers theorized that possibly longer treatment would restore it.
Also, if the younger mice were given the compound, they became, in certain ways, “supercharged,” according to the researchers. That indicated to them that the compound which produced NAD would probably have benefits for even humans who are healthy and younger, besides older humans.
The chemical HIF-1 is responsible for disrupting the communication between the nuclei and mitochondria of cells, and is produced by humans when their bodies are deprived of oxygen. Cancer is thought to activate HIF-1 and it, also, is activated by the aging process. Increasing the compound which produces NAD in cells might, therefore, also effectively prevent some types of cancers.
According to Ana Grimes, a postdoctoral scientist in the Sinclair lab and one of the senior authors of the study, “the physiology of cancer is in certain ways similar to the physiology of aging.” She adds that this link might “explain why the greatest risk of cancer is age.”
The researchers are now conducting further studies to learn if increasing the compound which produces NAD in mice will potentially enable them to have healthier, longer lives. Clinical trials in humans will begin in 2014, if all continues to go well.
Previously, the belief was that aging couldn’t be reversed because it was the result of mitochondrial mutations in the DNA of cells. Such mutations cannot be reversed. But, Professor Sinclair’s study suggests that aging is mainly due to the disruption in communication between the mitochondria and nuclei of cells.
Though Professor Sinclair cautions against people getting their hopes up too soon, and he says that there is “much more work to be done,” he states that if the results seen in the mice also are seen in the human clinical trials, “aging may be a reversible condition, if it is caught early.” According to Sinclair, they would like to make the compound which produces NAD available to the general public commercially as soon as possible. You can read the study, in the journal Cell, below at the last link.
Written by: Douglas Cobb