Researchers have confirmed that an ingredient in red wine counteracts the harmful effects of aging, potentially increasing life span by minimizing diseases associated with growing old.
They say this and other findings involving the compound resveratrol, could lead to an anti-aging pill in the next several years.
Resveratrol has been shown, in laboratory experiments with yeast, flies, and worms, to increase healthy lifespan by limiting diseases including cancer and heart disease. Researchers say resveratrol exerts its beneficial effect by boosting the activity of mitochondria, the tiny energy factories in cells.
Now, scientists for the first time have created a mouse model that could lead to the development of an anti-aging drug.
"Work from our lab, and now some companies, is aimed at finding medicines and developing medicines that could use the body's natural defenses against disease," says David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard University Medical School in Massachusetts and senior author of the latest study showing the health benefits of resveratrol in mice, "and, hopefully, one day have medicines that could delay multiple diseases and hopefully slow down aging."
Resveratrol works by boosting the energy output of cellular mitochondria by activating a class of genes known as sirtuins. In particular, it targets a gene called called SIRT1.
Students in Sinclair's lab disabled the SIRT1 gene in mice by giving them Tamoxifen, a drug commonly used to treat breast cancer. When the mice received doses of resveratrol after SIRT1 was switched off, researchers found the compound did not improve the rodents' mitochondrial functioning.
But energy production was boosted in mice with functioning SIRT1 genes. Sinclair says the finding confirms the role of SIRT1 in healthy aging, and is the most promising target of anti-aging drugs containing resveratrol.
"The goal would be that you go to your doctor, you have diabetes or you have Alzheimer's disease - early stage - and the doctor prescribes the medicine. And then the doctor says to you, 'Well, as a side effect, these new medicines they will protect you against cancer and heart disease and you might even have more energy.' And that's the sort of medicines we are hoping to make. And our new study shows that we are on track."
Human trials with resveratrol are currently under way and Sinclair predicts the first anti-aging drug could become available within five years.