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More on Sirtuins

As it turns out, the link I guessed at in my previous entry -- that work on sirtuins might be connected to previous work on caloric restriction -- was correct. There's a far more comprehensive article from the Washington Post:

Scientists have found for the first time a way to rev up a potent "anti-aging" enzyme in living cells, an advance they said could speed the development of drugs to extend human life span and prevent a wide range of geriatric diseases.

The novel approach has significantly increased the life spans of yeast and human cells in laboratory dishes and extended the lives of flies and worms -- organisms that, on the level of molecular biology, age much as humans do. Indeed, the researchers said, the compounds seem to have the same anti-aging effect as a drastic reduction in calories, the only strategy ever proven to extend life in mammals but one that most people find difficult to stick to...

[T]he findings strengthen an increasingly popular notion among many scientists that the cellular enzymes at the core of the experiments -- called sirtuins -- are universal regulators of aging in virtually all living organisms and represent a prime target for new anti-aging drugs...

For years researchers have known that life span can be extended by 50 percent or more in many kinds of creatures, including flies, worms and mice, if the animal is fed a diet that is nutritious but contains about 30 percent fewer calories than usual. Recently scientists found that the life-extending benefits of calorie restriction do not occur if the animal has been genetically altered to lack sirtuins, indicating these enzymes are crucial to this process.

Now scientists are coming to understand sirtuins' role in that life-extending response. In people, they seem to halt the normal cellular cycle that ends with old cells committing suicide and instead help rejuvenate them by beefing up their DNA repair processes and stimulating production of protective antioxidants.

"What we think is that if a cell is at a point of deciding whether to live or die, these sirtuins push toward the survival mode and let the cell try a little harder and longer to fix itself," said Sinclair, who has a financial stake in a new effort to develop sirtuin-related products with BIOMOL Research Laboratories of Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

Leonard Guarente, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, is also enthusiastic about the compounds' potential as anti-aging aids.

"We're very keen on the idea that this is it" -- that sirtuins are the central regulator of the aging process -- Guarente said. He is a founder of Elixir Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Mass., which, like Sinclair and BIOMOL, hopes to capitalize on chemicals that can boost sirtuin activity.

The goal is to make drugs or nutritional supplements that can fool the body into thinking it's living on a radically calorie-reduced diet, in effect allowing people to eat their cake and live longer, too.

BIOMOL can be found on the Web here. Elixir Pharmaceuticals can be found here.

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