Whether we are conscious of it or not, we will spend our entire life trying to elude death. Despite fruitless attempts to escape, our healthy instincts never allow us to put down the quest. Our heavily programmed will to live goes beyond fight or flight; it has motivated some of the greatest advances in medicine, anti-aging and biotechnology, yet we have never succeeded in dethroning the Reaper. A breakthrough, however, has been discovered by researchers that has produced more significant results in age reversal.
From Gilgamesh, to Tithonus, to Juan Ponce de Leon, immortality has been a topic of interest since the beginning of time, and slowing the aging process has been the consolation prize. While science has come far in decelerating the rate of aging, scientists have been doubtful about the possibility of actually reversing its effects.This is because certain age related illnesses are thought to be caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA, which cannot be repaired.
Instead of focusing only on mutations, researchers at the Harvard Medical School have also evaluated mitochondrial and nuclear genome communication. Initially, they studied a set of genes called sirtuins (SIRT). The genes’ protein products are involved in metabolic regulation, DNA repair and have a role in the aging process.
Like all cellular processes, there is a mechanism that regulates the transmission of information, and without a proper balance of key molecules, dysfunction occurs.
The mechanism begins with NAD+, which directs activity between a cell’s nuclear genome and mitochondrial genome. As an organism ages, the levels of NAD+ are reduced and this reduction in NAD+ levels causes SIRT1s to become less effective and unable to block interfering signals. As a result, there is weaker communication between the two genomes, reducing a cell’s efficiency in producing energy.
The results of the Harvard study found that when the cells of 22-month-old mice were treated with an NAD + precursor,the levels of NAD+ were increased, restoring ATP production and showing a reversal in certain aspects of aging. When scaling the impact of this research to human size, it would mean treatment with this precursor could restore a 60-year-old to his or her 20-year-old self.
Just as Tithonus faced a catch when receiving immortality, we must tame our excitement. This discovery does not necessarily mean that we may see a reversal in some of the physical signs of aging such as wrinkles and sagging skin; though, that would be nice. Instead, this study shows that it is possible to correct some of the biochemical disruptions that occur when we age if the treatment is taken early enough. And if the results of human trials are similar to those of the mice, we may see an impact on diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer and other age related illnesses.
As exciting as this news is, the movement toward clinical trials has been full of obstacles, mainly due to cost. In July, however, ChromaDex announced they would be initiating human trials using NIAGEN TM, which is the only available NAD+ precursor made for human use. Through the study, they hope to assess the necessary dosage and effectiveness.
The potential for mankind to live longer, healthier lives appeals to our most fundamental senses, and humanity’s fierce will to live forces us to continue pursuing ways to find a fountain of youth. It will be interesting to see how the development of this treatment progresses, its effectiveness and how or if it will be dispensed among the entire population.
Gomes, A., Price, N., Ling, A., Moslehi, J., Montgomery, M., Rajman, L., White, J., Teodoro, J., Wrann,. Hubbard, B., Mercken, E., Palmeira, C., Cabo, R., Rolo, A., Turner, N., Bell, E., Sinclair, D. (2013). Declining NAD + induces a pseudohypoxi state disrupting nuclear-mitochondrial communication during aging. Cell 155(7), pages 1624-38. Doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2013.11.037.
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"To understand the universe is to understand math." My 8th grade
math teacher's quote meant nothing to me at the time. Then came
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