The desire to prevent chronic diseases of aging is the Holy Grail of scientific research. Scientists around the globe are focused on the molecular pathways involved in aging to unlock the keys to cellular aging, and two groups recently had major breakthroughs, reports Dr. Mark McKenna, who regularly blogs about medical breakthroughs.
Northwestern Bioscientists Hit “reset button” for Damaging Proteins
A team of molecular bioscientists from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, have uncovered new insights into cellular aging, publishing their research in the journal Cell Reports.
The scientists have discovered that stressing a cell can reverse signs of cellular aging – which they believe might lead to more successful ways to slow the aging process. Their study focused on the transparent nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm often used as a model for human aging and disease as its cellular properties and biochemical environment are similar to humans.
As C. elegans ages, the mechanism involved with proteins in the cells becomes dysfunctional, going into a downward spiral that over time results in damaged proteins. A similar process takes place in the human neurological system, and leads to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.
In their study, researchers put the cells’ mitochondria under mild stress – which had an unexpected result, as the mitochondria sent signals to the protein mechanism that prevented it from malfunctioning. Instead, the mechanism began reducing the backup of damaged proteins.
This was not expected – and had never been witnessed before, researchers stated. In fact, prolonged mitochondrial stress is known to be deleterious. However, this study shows that just a little stress on the mitochondria actually has the opposite effect – sending a signal that ignites a survival strategy, igniting a survival mode strategy that can greatly improve lifespan.
Researchers say their goal is not to make people live longer, but to improve their health at the cellular and molecular levels as they age during their lifespan.
Previous studies had revealed that in C. elegans, the protein-handling mechanism starts to decline at reproductive maturity. This degenerative process is linked with signals from germline cells that prevent tissues from producing protective responses to stress. In C. elegans, this occurs within 12 hours after the onset of adulthood, and the worm lives just 3 more weeks.
In the current study, researchers used 2-day-old animals. They screened nearly 22,000 genes to find those involved in the protein decline, and focused on a group of genes called the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) that appeared to be important. When mild stress was applied, the result was healthier worms.
The study indicates that the organism interprets mild stress signals as a prompt to “reset” its processes, which will improve its longevity. The mitochondria begins to function at a “younger” level, which results in robust cells and tissues.
While the study results will not be applicable to human longevity for quite some time, but this research sheds new light that may yield a new anti-aging therapy.
UK Scientists Reverse Aging in Human Cells
At the University of Exeter, a team of molecular geneticists has discovered another mechanism to reverse aging – a way to rejuvenate inactive senescent human cells. Their research is published in a recent issue of the journal BMC Cell Biology.
In previous studies, this group showed that a class of genes called splicing factors are progressively switched off as we age.
In their current study, the team found that splicing factors can be switched back on with the correct chemicals, resulting in senescent cells that were switched on – with a physically improved appearance, and dividing again just like younger cells.
Even more intriguing, within hours of becoming reactivated, the cells had longer telomeres — the ‘caps’ on the chromosomes that shorten with age, explains Dr. Mark McKenna.
The chemical that triggered this rejuvenation? Reservatrol – found naturally in red wine, red grapes and blueberries, and dark chocolate.
The chemicals in reservatrol caused splicing factors, which are progressively switched off as we age, to be switched back on. Within hours, the cells had an improved appearance and began dividing again, similar to youthful cells. The experiment was repeated several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated.
Splicing factors are crucial in ensuring that genes can perform their full range of functions, researchers explain. One gene sends out multiple messages to trigger a bodily function – such as new blood vessel growth. The splicing factors determine whether to react to the messages or not. If the splicing factors are weakened with age, they restrict the cells’ ability to respond to these messages.
Most organs in older people contain senescent cells with fewer splicing factors.
These senescent cells are alive but lose the ability to correctly regulate the output of their genes, which increases susceptibility to disease. When activated, genes send instructions for the cell that determines how the cell acts.
While more research is necessary to establish the true potential for this approach to cellular degeneration in aging, it could lead to therapies which could help people age healthier, without the typical risks of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, states Dr. Mark McKenna.
About Doctor Mark McKenna :
Mark McKenna, MD, MBA is a Medical Doctor licensed in Surgery and Medicine by the Georgia and Florida State Board of Medical Examiners. Dr. McKenna is originally from New Orleans, LA, and is a graduate of Tulane University Medical School. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the city of New Orleans, Dr. McKenna actively participated in the rebuilding of New Orleans through the redevelopment of low-moderate income housing.
After relocating to Atlanta, Dr. McKenna launched ShapeMed, a wellness and aesthetic based medical practice. ShapeMed was sold to Life Time Fitness Inc. Dr. McKenna served as National Medical Director of Life Time Fitness Inc. until 2016. In July 2017 He is currently preparing to launch OVME, a consumer facing, technology enabled, medical aesthetic company that is reinventing elective healthcare.
Dr. McKenna practices Jiu Jitsui regularly, and says his thinking has been most influenced by Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, and Barack Obama.