January 9, 2018
Aging Part II: The Opportunities and Challenges of an Extended Life
BY Mary Mahoney
Thanks to the medical advances of the last 100 years, we live longer. But what if we could reverse aging and regain the vitality of our youth?
Science has proved it can happen. A March 2017 article in Chemical and Engineering News, reported the discovery that simple mutations in single genes could double, triple, and even more radically increase the life span of worms.
When it comes to humans, it’s not so easy.
But there’s progress. Scientists have noticed that the diabetes drug metformin may offset metabolic and cellular processes associated with age-related conditions. The drug currently is going through clinical trials sponsored by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The antiaging effects of Rapamycin, a drug used to suppress rejection of organ transplants and suppress tumors, has been studied in laboratory mice. Those mice demonstrated more fitness, improved cognition and cardiovascular health, less cancer and a longer life.
But before you get too excited, it is worth noting that aging is incredibly complex. Tweaking the effects of aging may unbalance other functions of the body.
Yet antiaging research is on a roll. The February 2017 issue of Cell published the results of an artificially engineered peptide − a sort of protein − given to mice. The peptide reverses aging at a cellular level to combat senescent, or dying, cells. Cells that are senescent impair tissue function. The peptide was found to “restore fitness, fur density and renal function” in all the rodents.
The most exciting possibility may be just around the corner: NAD+ boosters. The latest research by antiaging scientist Dr. David Sinclair of the Harvard Medical School, published in Science on March 24, 2017, reported that as mice age and NAD+ concentrations decline, DNA damage accumulates, a process rapidly reversed by restoring the abundance of NAD+, “which may protect against cancer, radiation, and aging.”
So how do you tweak your NAD+? One way may be taking supplements with nicotinamide riboside, or NR, a form of vitamin B3. As early as 2012, scientists noticed that NR protected against obesity in mice. Another study on mice showed NR alleviated pain from chemotherapy.
Sinclair’s recent research focuses on NMN − nicotinamide mononucleotide − a form of NR. As Science Daily reported, “The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment.”
NAD+ boosters also may affect age-related conditions, including female infertility. This would give hope to childhood cancer survivors, 96 percent of whom suffer a chronic illness by age 45, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and other cancers.
“All of this adds up to the fact they have accelerated ageing, which is devastating,” Sinclair said. “It would be great to do something about that, and we believe we can with this molecule.”
NMN could also be critical to reversing radiation damage. NASA may be able to use it on a trip to Mars, where “five percent of the astronauts’ cells would die and their chances of cancer would approach 100 percent” due to radiation exposure en route.
Closer to earth, frequent flyers who absorb unhealthy amounts of radiation during long flights, also might benefit from NMN.
And more discoveries just keep coming: The Salk Institute recently published a study in which tweaking genes turned adult human cells into embryonic-like ones. Scientists there also extended the life of a mouse.
Although a few small human trials are ongoing, there are still no large, long-term studies on people. But if, as Salk scientist Juan Carlos Belmonte says, “aging is something plastic that we can manipulate,” it is impossible not to daydream about the possibilities.