Harvard researchers and others may have unlocked the pathway for controlling the spread of disease associated with aging such as heart disease, osteoporosis and certain cancers. And, the source may come from some vegetables and red wine.
A recent study, reports The Early Show Medical Correspondent Emily Senay, may hold the key to the process in which disease prevention could take place. A molecule found in red wine and certain vegetables appear to drive into action certain enzymes that help cells defend against aging better, according to the research.
Nature magazine published the results of the tests that were administered in yeast cells. Senay says the results prove promising for future research in lab mice, which may lead to the development of medications that could prove beneficial to humans.
For years the research community has known rats served a low calorie diet lived longer and showed a drop in cancer and heart disease. Scientists deduced that there must be a type of defense effect in the cells that could prevent or reverse the effects of disease. For about 70 years, researchers have been trying to determine why or how this was happening.
Scientists used molecular biology to study small organisms like yeast and fruit flies to determine the path of this anti-aging mechanism. A breakthrough came when it was found that a single gene could determine how fast an organism aged.
One could possibly alter the path or progression of aging if one could identify the gene and figure out how it works. What the latter studies showed, Senya explains, is that cells have genes that act like "traffic cops," which control aging by telling cells how to defend themselves better. If science could tell the "traffic cops" how to do a better job to control the effects of aging, then it wouldn't be necessary to understand the cause of aging at all, experts say. Senay says science could go to the source and develop preventive methods that work directly on the "traffic cop" genes.
It appeared that when cells became stressed the "traffic cop" genes began to work harder to alter the cell's stressful environment. The "traffic cops" genes discovered are known as sirtuins. Sirtuins are found in all organisms from simple organisms such as yeast and fireflies to humans. Humans actually have seven sirtuin genes.
The Harvard study in Nature is the first to show how one can manipulate cells to stimulate sirtuins to work on overdrive with a drug without having to genetically alter the cells. Senay says if science can create drugs that stimulate sirtruin genes directly then it may be possible to develop drug regimes for humans that could possibly prevent the onslaught of heart disease, osteoporosis and certain cancers.
Researchers already knew calorie restriction forced sirtuins to work harder in cells. So they set out to find chemicals that could create the same effect and help cells defend against aging better. They added thousands of chemicals individually to several thousand viles of yeast and watched their reaction in test tubes. Sirtuin activation was measured by the amount of light given off by each test tube.
Two chemicals in particular worked very well. Researchers then took to their books and looked for other documented chemicals with shapes similar to the two well-performing chemicals. Fifteen more chemicals were found to stimulate sirtuin activity, but reversatrol worked 10 times faster and extended the lifespan of the yeast cell by 70 percent. Resverstrol happens to be the same chemical found in some red wines.
Senay says this study reinforces that red wine consumption does have some very positive health effects. What scientists didn't know for sure was how red wine helped one's health. The study, Senay says, provides some insight into how resveratrol could work to counter certain effects of the aging process.
Researcher have no idea yet if sirtuins will defend against aging in humans. Yet the study did find that 30 percent of cells survived radiation in the few human cells treated with resveratrol. The DNA in those cells didn't break down when exposed.
Senay says researchers are not promoting for consumption of red wine. Drinking some red wine, however, cannot hurt. Senay says red wine seems to work because the skin of the red wine grape contains reversatrol. The red wines from Chile and Argentina have more naturally occurring reversatrol than those that come from France. It is believed the vineyards in South America are turning on their own reversatrol production because they grow in a more stressful environment (dryer climates, fewer rains).
Peanuts also contain some reversatrol.
Experts say a healthy diet and exercise is the key to a healthier life. Researchers are using this information to see if they can actually develop medication to help people prevent or reverse the ill effects of aging. Senay says the research's findings, although quite positive, will not affect any of us anytime soon.
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