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New findings published in the December issue of Cell, detail the surprising results from lab tests conducted to determine the cause of aging in mice.

Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School explained that the aging process they 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; and just like with a couple, restoring communication solved the problem.

According to the team, scientists have always been hesitant to believe the effects of getting physically older could be reversed due to the theory that these diseases centered around aging are the result of irreversible mutations at the genetic level.

The focus of the research, like so many studies into aging, was directed at mitochondria, the power-packs of cells that carry out key biological functions.  In this case, UNSW Medicine’s David Sinclair isolated the molecular processes inside cells that enable communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus.  Over time, the integrity of this communication breaks down, which accelerates the aging process. The key to Sinclair’s research was in finding a way to restore this communication.

The new compound, nicotinamide mono nucleotide (NMN), worked surprisingly quickly when tested on mice.  When administered early enough in the aging process, it was found to work within one week; the muscles of older 2-year old mice were indistinguishable from the younger 6-month old animals.  It also improved muscle wastage, restored mitochondrial function and communication, and improved inflammation and insulin resistance, both of which are known causes of aging.

As we age, our levels of the chemical NAD decline, but by applying the new compound to both muscle tissue culture and lab mice, the researchers were able to restore these critical NAD levels.  Cells actually convert this compound into NAD, which repairs the broken network and rapidly restores communication and mitochondrial function. In essence, it mimics the effects of diet and exercise.

To put the results of this study into perspective, they were like regenerating the muscles of a 60-year old human to those of a 20-year old.  With that said, the comparison should be taken with a grain of salt; human aging and metabolism is quite different from that of mice.  What’s more, muscle strength did not improve (though the researchers are hoping to correct that).  It’s also an example of partial age reversal; the mice still have other age-related problems, like neurodegenerative decline and the shortening of telomeres.

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