To date, we know of only two things that can reverse the effects of aging: caloric restriction and extensive exercise. But in a recent experiment, researchers applied a new compound to 2-year old mice, causing their muscles to regenerate to 6-month old levels. Incredibly, human trials may start next year.
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 improved muscle wastage, restored mitochondrial function and communication, and improved inflammation and insulin resistance, both of which are known causes of aging.
To put it into perspective, this result was like regenerating the muscles of a 60-year old human to those of a 20-year old.
Quite obviously, this 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.
But let's not get too down on the findings. What these Harvard Medical School researchers did is nothing short of amazing. Aging reversal. Moreover, the scientists are optimistic that the same compound will benefit healthy, young humans. To that end, the researchers are hoping to conduct human trials late next year. But realistically, even if it's found to have a similar effect on humans — and with no side-effects — therapies likely won't be put into place for about 20 years.
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.
As we age, our levels of the chemical NAD decline, facilitating this unfortunate communication cascade. 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.