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EXETER, United Kingdom — British researchers have discovered potential therapies to prolong active, healthy lives. Utilizing drugs that release minuscule amounts of the gas hydrogen sulfide (H2S), scientists at the University of Exeter found that this anti-aging therapeutic technique works when specifically targeted within cells.

Through experiments on adult worms, the team found that by using small doses of H2S specifically to target cell mitochondria using a molecule named AP39, they could significantly enhance the health and activity of the worms as they grew older. Mitochondria are often dubbed the “powerhouse” of cells because they produce energy for them.

Hydrogen sulfide image
Hydrogen sulfide image. (credit: University of Exeter)

Mitochondrial dysfunction is linked with a number of age-related conditions, such as natural aging, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, and primary mitochondrial diseases.

Researchers discovered a set of proteins responsible for regulating gene expression in aging (transcription factors). These proteins were specifically targeted by H2S, opening up potential avenues for therapies addressing aging and muscle-related conditions.

“Worms are a powerful genetic tool to study human health and disease and offer a strong platform to quickly identify new potential therapeutics,” says Tim Etheridge, the study’s senior author and professor at the University of Exeter, in a university release. “Diseases related to aging take a huge toll on society. Our results indicate that H2S, administered to specific parts of the cell in tiny quantities, could one day be used to help people live healthier for longer.”

Researchers previously explored targeting skeletal muscle with H2S in worms. This new publication showcases the first application of this method to natural aging.

MitoRx Therapeutics, a spin-out company of the University of Exeter, has been granted the rights to the foundational technology. The company is currently developing advanced compounds as potential medicines to tackle age-related diseases, including Huntington’s disease and childhood conditions like muscular dystrophy.

“This study is not about extending life – it’s about living healthier lives well into older age. This could have huge benefits to society,” says Matt Whiteman, study co-author and professor at the University of Exeter. “We’re excited to see this research move to the next stages over the coming years, and hope it will one day form the basis of new treatments which we have the potential to develop with MitoRx.”

Even though the worms still died, later than normally expected, researchers note they “died very active and with a young physiology.”

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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