Since the beginning of time, humans have sought an actual and a proverbial fountain of youth—a source of anti-aging and longevity that would keep them from growing old. Being “forever young” is something people have pursued over the millennia and it is a not-so-trivial pursuit even today.
In fact, in the past couple of weeks, a team of Harvard Medical School researchers have found the “first potentially fundamental, root cause of aging” and are hopeful this finding is preliminary to halting or reversing aging, as well as age-related degeneration, in humans. They are quick to note that there is still a lot of ground to cover, but that their findings are significant. (Those findings have been published in the November 28, 2008 issue of the journal Cell.)
Here’s an overview: Scientists have known for quite a while that a group of genes called sirtuins are instrumental in the aging process. These same genes, however, when they are stimulated by resveratrol (a polyphenolic compound found naturally in the skins of grapes, purple grape juice, peanuts, some berries--such as cranberries, blueberries, and bilberries--as well as red wine) or caloric restriction appear to have a positive effect on aging and on overall health.
And their pursuit for discovering the cause of aging has gone on for a time. Nearly a decade ago, Harvard Medical School professor of pathology David Sinclair and his colleagues discovered that a particular sirtuin in yeast directly affected the process of aging by regulating gene activity in cells and repairing breaks in DNA. As DNA damage increased, however, the sirtuin “became too distracted to properly regulate gene activity,” so the aging process took over.
All this was observed to occur in yeasts, not mammals—until now. The researchers experimented on older mice and wondered what would happen if they “put more of the sirtuin back into mice” (via copies of the sirtuin gene or by feeding them the sirtuin activator resveratrol) and found that their lifespans were extended by 24 to 46 percent. They found, too, that these experimental mice were better at repairing DNA, more resistant to illness, and maintained a more youthful pattern of gene expression.
“This opens up the possibility of restoring youth in the elderly by re-establishing a useful pattern of gene expression,” says Sinclair.
So what’s next? Sinclair and his team look to study whether established changes in gene expression can be reversed by increasing production of these sirtuins—perhaps by using polyphenols like resveratrol.
It sounds like they are looking for ways to turn back the ravages of aging.
I guess that is close enough to a fountain of youth.