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CORDIS Express

A weekly briefing on European Research & Innovation
Publication date: 2014-01-17

The promise of eternal youth

 

The ageing of the European population is well documented. We live longer than ever, and what could seem like a blessing on paper increasingly looks like a curse: incurable age-related diseases are on the rise, pension funds are shrinking to the point where younger generations may not have anything left, and businesses still give the cold shoulder to most job-seeking people who are over fifty years-old.

As unbelievable as it may sound, the common solution to all of these problems may come from recent experiments on a mice. According to a team of researchers at Harvard University, taking a 60-year-old back to the glorious days of his twenties could soon become reality.

The team found that in young mice, communication inside individual cells is fast and frequent. The ageing process is due to this communication become increasingly slow over time. ‘The ageing process we discovered is like a married couple – when they are young, they communicate well. But over time, living in close quarters for many years, communication breaks down,’ Professor Sinclair from the University of New South Wales and Harvard University said. ‘And just like a couple, restoring communication solved the problem.’

The comparison, however, stops here. Instead of a marriage counsellor, the team gave mice injections containing the naturally occurring compound NMN, which raises the levels of a molecule called NAD known for repairing the cells' communication network. After a week, the treatment effectively transformed the equivalent in mice of a 60-year-old human into a 20-year-old on some measures, including the degree of muscle wastage, insulin resistance and inflammation.

The team hopes to begin human trials this year. And according to Prof. Sinclair, this new treatment could have implications for the treatment of age-related diseases such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.