If genomes could just keep communicating better, like young people in love, and not turn into grumpy old marrieds, barely speaking, the anti-aging process could be reversed. This is the startling claim from researches carried out by professors at Harvard and the University of New South Wales.
There is a molecule, Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+,) which “talks” between the two genomes present in every living cell. It is when it stops talking, that aging begins. All cells slow down. The effects are the ones familiar to all. Failing muscle tone and strength, loss of vigor and vitality, and ailments associated with inflammation.
The good news, especially at this time of year, is that NAD+ can be stimulated by trytophans, present in such foods as turkey and chocolate. The even better news, longer-term, is that trials on mice have been able to not just slow down aging, but to reverse it altogether. A compound has been developed which keeps the genomes inter-connected.
In trials with mice, they demonstrated renewed energy, better muscle tone and a big upgrade in insulin resistance. The mice were then rejuvenated to the extent, that, had they been human, it would have been like a 60-year-old feeling 20 again. The results have been published in the journal Cell.
Professor David Sinclair from NSW led the study, from his base at Harvard. He is delighted with progress so far. He said he had been working at the molecular level for twenty years now and he never thought to see a day when the ageing process could be reversed. Now it seems to be in sight. Human trials are expected to begin in 2014.
His hopes for the impact of the research include keeping people healthier for longer and keeping them from the “diseases of ageing.” Dementia was no specifically mentioned, but with cases expected to triple by 2050, this breakthrough could be timely.
Mice get sick as they get older too, and these were studied. Diabetes, muscle wasting, and inflammation leading to problems like arthritis were all seen to be reversed within a week. “That was really quite a striking result” Professor Sinclair said.
Going on to explain how the body starts to deteriorate, Sinclair employed the metaphor of the old married couple. “What we found is that during aging, these two genomes, the chromosomes, don’t talk to each other.”
“Much like a married couple talks to each other when they’re newly married but then stop communicating after about twenty years, at least in some cases. Then we found we could reverse that and get the communication going again, and the animals were back to being young again.”
NAD + is the molecule that acts as the marriage counselor. Young people have high levels of it, and it can be kept up with a healthy lifestyle of good diet and exercise. With age though, it tends to reduce by at least 50%.
Sinclair won’t predict how long it may be before this research carries over into the human population, and the compound becomes available. He has set up a company and he has to raise funds for additional research.
The aim of turning back time, finding the elixir of youth, or in any way, outwitting the bounds of mortality have been a continual preoccupation of human beings since the dawn of civilisation. The news that it may in fact be possible, ironically, raises a perplexing number of issues and concerns.
To keep every cell in the body in the first flush of happy and communicative bliss, and not to wither into silence and disdain, is an apt image for staying forever young. This could be the biggest clue to anti aging yet discovered.
By Kate Henderson