JERUSALEM, Israel — A fountain-of-youth drug could soon make the problems of aging a thing of the past. Researchers in Israel say they have identified a group of molecules that repair the damaged parts of cells which break down over time. That discovery may also lead to a new pill that prevents age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem note that modern medicine has helped to increase the average life expectancy worldwide. However, as people live longer, they face more and more problems associated with old age. With that in mind, the team set out to balance the benefits of longevity with a better quality of life in our later years.
During their study, the researchers developed a drug which protects human cells from damage, making it possible for a person’s tissues to retain their proper function for a longer period of time.
Fixing the power plants of cells
Study authors say a major factor in the aging process is the drop in effectiveness in a cell’s quality-control mechanism. When this system starts to break down, it leads to a buildup of defective mitochondria — the “power plants” of the cells.
“Mitochondria, the cell’s ‘power plants,’ are responsible for energy production. They can be compared to tiny electric batteries that help cells function properly. Although these ‘batteries’ wear out constantly, our cells have a sophisticated mechanism that removes defective mitochondria and replaces them with new ones,” Professor Einav Gross explains in a media release.
However, this mechanism breaks down as people grow older. The result is cell dysfunction and the deterioration in tissue activity — which can cause diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and heart failure to develop.
The team is hopeful that their study has found an innovative compound that may help treat these diseases. Turned into an easy-to-take pill, the molecules may also act as a preventative measure, repairing cellular aging before it has a chance to trigger disease.
“In the future, we hope we will be able to significantly delay the development of many age-related diseases and improve people’ quality of life,” says co-author Shmuel Ben-Sasson.
The researchers, together with Yissum, Hebrew University’s tech transfer company, have created the startup company Vitalunga to further develop this compound into an anti-aging drug.
“Ben-Sasson’s and Gross’s findings have significant value for the global aging population,” notes Itzik Goldwaser, CEO of Yissum. “As Vitalunga advances towards pre-clinical studies, they’re closer than ever to minimizing the unbearable burden that aging-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, has on individuals, their families and our health care systems.”
The findings are published in the journal Autophagy.