Australian and US researchers have developed a compound which reverses muscle ageing in mice, saying it could be one of the keys to reversing ageing in humans.
When used in trials, the compound gave mice more energy, toned their muscles, reduced inflammation, and led to big improvements in insulin resistance.
Scientists say it actually reversed the ageing process, not just slowing it down, and say that for humans the effect would be similar to a 60-year-old feeling like a 20-year-old.
And they say human trials could start within the year.
The study has been published this morning in the research journal Cell.
“I’ve been studying ageing at the molecular level now for nearly 20 years and I didn’t think I’d see a day when ageing could be reversed. I thought we’d be lucky to slow it down a little bit,” University of New South Wales geneticist Professor David Sinclair said.
“The mice had more energy, their muscles were as though they’d be exercising and it was able to mimic the benefits of diet and exercise just within a week.”
Professor Sinclair led the study from his base at Harvard Medical School in the US.
“We think that should be able to keep people healthier for longer and keep them from getting diseases of ageing,” he said.
The researchers also looked at particular diseases in the old mice.
“We looked at diabetes, we looked at muscle wasting or frailty, and we also look at inflammations as something that gives rise to many diseases like arthritis. All of those aspects of ageing were reversed within that week and that was really quite a striking result,” Professor Sinclair said.
He said the team identified a new cause of ageing that is particularly prevalent in muscle, including the heart.
“What we think is going on is that we have two major chromosome sets in our body,” he said.
“What we found is that during ageing these two genomes, the chromosomes, don’t talk to each other,” he said.
“Much like a married couple talks to each other when they’re newly married but then they stop communicating after about 20 years, at least in some cases.
“Then we found that we could reverse that and get the communication going again and the animals went back to being young again.
“We used a molecule that raises a chemical in the body that goes down as we get older – its simple name is NAD (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide),” he added.
“When we’re young we have the high levels of NAD and if we exercise and diet, the levels of this NAD molecule are high in our body.
“But as we get older, and as these mice in our experiments got older, the levels went down about 50 per cent and then we could give this drug to bring the levels back up again.”
The next stage in the research involves trials with humans, most likely within the next year.
Professor Sinclair is reluctant to forecast how long it will be before the compound might be readily available for use but he says he has established a company to push things along.
“These trials, if we do manage to do them in patients, are millions of dollars and really I need to raise money to be able to do them and that’s the mechanism,” he said.