Researchers have found that they can reverse a cause of ageing which could open up treatments for skin inflammation, muscle wasting, and even cancer and type 2 diabetes.
At the moment, researched published in the journal Cell, has only been carried out on animals but the teams hopes it will start human trials later this year.
The work, led by UNSW Medicine's David Sinclair relates to mitochondria, and found a series of molecular events enable communication inside cells between the mitochondria and the nucleus. As communication breaks down, ageing accelerates.
"The ageing process we 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," says UNSW Professor Sinclair, who is based at Harvard Medical School.
"And just like a couple, restoring communication solved the problem."
Sinclair and the researchers used a compound that cells transform into NAD to repair the broken network and rapidly restore communication and mitochondrial function. It mimics the effects of diet and exercise.
While the geneticist’s group in Boston was working on muscles in tissue culture, colleagues at UNSW in Sydney were working on animal models to prove the work could have the same results.
"It was shocking how quickly it happened," says co-author Dr Nigel Turner, an ARC Future Fellow from UNSW's Department of Pharmacology. "If the compound is administered early enough in the ageing process, in just a week, the muscles of the older mice were indistinguishable from the younger animals."
One particularly important aspect of this research involves HIF-1, which is an intrusive molecule that foils communication, but also has a role in cancer.
It has been known for some time that HIF-1 is switched on in many cancers, now this research has found it also switches on during ageing.
"We become cancer-like in our ageing process," says Professor Sinclair. "Nobody has linked cancer and ageing like this before." This may explain why the greatest risk of cancer is age.
The researchers are now looking at the longer-term outcomes the NAD-producing compound has on mice, and will continue their ageing studies from here.