Nematode worm: image credit: iStockphoto/Nancy Nehring
Thanks to Silvestre Alavez, a staff scientist in the Lithgow Lab at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, we may be able to slow down the progression of disease processes, particularly Alzheimer's disease, and extend human life span. And the substance that could do it has been right under lab researcher's microscopes all along.
Thioflavin T (ThT), aka Basic Yellow 1, or Cl49005, is the dye used to see the amyloid beta plaques and proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. It starts out as yellow, but turns blue when it is in contact with amyloid beta. Alavez, trained in neuroscience, experimented with ThT, administering the dye into nematodes that had been bred to mimic signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Healthy nematodes normally have a life span of two or three weeks, but with the dye, their life spans were extended by 50 percent. In those worms that were bred with 'Alzheimer's,' ThT significantly slowed disease progression.
Silvestre Alavez, the instigator of the ThT research: IJphoto/Robert Tong via mercurynews.comGordon Lithgow, head of the study, which is published in the March 30, 2011 online edition of Nature, said, "What's new and exciting about this study is we think we know what is going on." And what he was referring to is a healthy organism's natural ability to maintain the balance and structure of its proteins, known as protein homeostasis.
"Proteins have a certain three-dimensional shape and if that shape is lost by
clumping or other types of damage their function is lost as well," Lithgow said.
"This is well studied in relation to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease
and other diseases."
The Lithgow Lab has been looking for compounds that could slow aging for more than 10 years. ThT appears to be effective at slowing down aging and disease processes. As for Alvarez, ThT is not his first longevity find; he has identified several other compounds, including curcumin, now being tested in several human clinical trials for such diseases as colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
Yet, Lithgow believes that for slowing down the aging process, ThT is "the best we have so far." It is now being tested on mice.
sources: Science Daily, Mercury News, Nature, Wikipedia