Discovery extends lifespan and offers a way of fighting age-related diseases

Dye extends lifespan in nematodes and slows Alzheimer's like disease in worms. What does this mean for treatment of age-related diseases?
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Researchers found a way to slow the aging process and the progression of age-related diseases.

The bad news is that the results are only true for worms.

However, this is hardly surprising. Worms have always been at the heart of longevity studies.

One scientist leading the way in understanding the relationship between stress and longevity is Gordon Lithgow. In his lab at Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Lithgow has made some critical observations that protein homeostasis is important in figuring out aging rates.

Lithgow has been searching for compounds that could slow protein aggregation and possibly expand the lifespan of worms. After discovering that small molecules could prevent changes in worms, he realized that the compounds could be used for new treatments aimed at preventing the onset of neurodegenerative diseases.

The most promising compound is a common laboratory dye called Basic Yellow 1. Lithgow used the dye to expand the lifespan of nematode worms by more than 50 percent. The dye also slowed the progression of an Alzheimer’s like disease in worms. The study was published in Nature.

The dye is also called Thioflavin T (ThT). It binds amyloid plaques, the protein associated with Alzheimer’s. Normally the dye is used in Alzheimer’s research because it can be used to identify disease in brain tissue samples. However this time, scientists were curious to find out if the compound could be used to slow the process of aging.

Protein homeostasis is the ability of an organism to make sure its proteins maintain their structure and balance. When the process breaks down, it can lead to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. The shape can be lost by aggregation, which can cause it to lose its function. That’s why scientists want to use compounds like ThT to slow aging.

Protein homeostasis is believed to be a driving mechanism for normal aging. Therefore, compounds that prevent the proteins from clumping together have been shown to slow down the normal aging process. Also, previous studies have suggested that protein homeostasis does affect longevity in animals.

But remember, these worms only live for 20 days or so. Scientists will have to do more research to find out if the dye can significantly extend the lifespan of other animals too. But for now, the scientists have good reason to think ThT is a fountain of youth... for nematode worms, at least.

The next animal on trial isn't a human though. It's mice.

This dye is the best compound for extending the life of an organism because it manipulates the aging process, it is active in several disease states and it improves how the animal handles changes in its proteins.

However, ThT isn’t the only compound that can extend the lifespan of worms. There’s a clinical trial that involves the active ingredient in Indian spice, curcumin. The ingredient is being used to treat colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and depression.

Photo: Gordon Lithgow

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