There is currently a large need for pharmaceuticals that can combat age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and Huntington’s disease. Doctors at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging are trying to fill this niche. The team is working to identify chemicals that can improve lifespan in a number of organisms. These chemicals may one day become incorporated in an anti-aging drug in the future.
The Buck Institute’s researchers are working with teams led by Monica Driscoll, Ph.D. at Rutgers University, and Patrick Phillip, Ph.D., at the University of Oregon. The team is working together in the Caenorhabditis Intervention Testing Programme (CITP), a consortium funded by the National Institute on Aging. Researchers in the consortium are using a number of strains and species of the roundworm Caenorhabditis to find chemical agents that can delay aging effects across a number of organisms with varied genetic backgrounds.
The processes associated with aging are very complex and are most likely informed by an individual’s genes. CITP hopes that if scientists can detect agents that show effects in a variety of organisms with different genetic backgrounds, those agents may have a high likelihood of being effective in humans, too. Roundworms are ideal for screening chemicals affecting lifespan in a short amount of time because they only live about three weeks.
Researchers at the Buck Institute used three stains each of the roundworms C. briggsae and C. elegans in order to test a series of ten compounds that have shown increased longevity in other organisms such as C. elegans. Most of the chemicals that had been previously studied were shown to extend lifespan in the laboratory-adapted N2 strain of C. elegans. The researchers did not yet know how these chemicals would behave in wild strains of C. elegans or C. briggsae.
The research showed that a number of the compounds did increase longevity in the C. elegans strains, while others only showed these effects in the N2 C. elegans strain. However, the compound Thioflavin T lengthened lifespan in every organism tested. It was also extremely potent, with at least one of the strains consistently showing a doubling of lifespan.
Thioflavin T is a dye that is commonly used in laboratories. It binds to toxic protein aggregates called amyloid plaques. These plaques are found in the brains of people who have Alzheimer’s disease. Buck Institute researchers had previously published results stating that the lifespan of one strain of C. elegans could be extended by Thioflavin T. The study also stated that Thioflavin T is likely to work by allowing the organisms to maintain proper transport, folding, expression, and clearance of proteins.
The CITP has created a stronger scientific process by bringing together multiple institutions and allowing these researchers to validate each other’s work. The Buck Institute team recently analysed the results as a whole and found the the three CITP study sites did a good job of reproducing each other’s data. However, analysis of the individual experiments at any given site shows that there is high variation from experiment to experiment. The experiments still need to be replicated in a large variety of organisms to ensure the anti-aging effects of these chemicals.
According to lead author Mark Lucanic, Ph.D., the researchers hope that the chemicals that have promising effects can be tested in vertebrates in the future. If the chemicals are effective in vertebrates, they may be the basis of drugs that can combat age-related illnesses in humans. This could be a huge step for anti-aging and the prevention of diseases associated with aging.