Man has been chasing the elixir of youth for ages and with positive outcomes coming from lab tests that attempt to reverse aging, it might not be too long when age would become just a number.
In a paper published in the journal Cell, a team of researchers at the University of New South Wales describe for the first time a compound naturally made by young cells that was able to revive old cells, make them more energetic and youthful again.
The group conducted an experiment on mice and found that giving two year old mice a naturally produced compound in cells, called NAD, for one week, made them resemble that of six month old mice. In terms of human years, that would be equivalent to the cells of a 60-year old becoming more like those that belong to a 20-year old.
The researchers also noted that the older mice that were given the compound for just one week, developed muscle strength comparable to that of the younger mice. The compound showed some benefits on the younger mice as well making them more "supercharged".
According to Dr. David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who led the study, levels of NAD drop by 50 percent as mammals age and with less of the compound, the communication between the cell and its energy engines known as the mitochondria also falters and this causes the cells to become more vulnerable to aging assaults such as inflammation, muscle wasting and slower metabolism. By tricking the cell into thinking that it is young again using sufficient amount of NAD, aging can be theoretically reversed.
"When we give the molecule, the cells think oxygen levels are normal and everything revs back up again," Sinclair says.
The researchers plan to start human trials next year but say they still need to study the long term effects of the compound. Sinclair says that they are hopeful that the age-reversal capabilities of the compound could help treat age-related diseases such as type-2 diabetes, inflammatory diseases, and even cancer.
While NAD may hold the key to the fountain of youth, Sinclair isn't ready to say that it could lead to immortal cells. "I wouldn't take it that far," he says. "What makes reversing aging interesting is that it could buy more time than we are currently looking at."