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Molecules that may keep you young — and alive

A new Concordia research collaboration with Idunn Technologies provides insight into how certain chemicals can slow biological ageing
March 15, 2016
By Cléa Desjardins

The Fountain of Youth, a 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder "The Fountain of Youth" by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Even though the search for the Fountain of Youth dates back to the ancient Greeks, the quest to live forever continues today. Indeed, it has been said that the ability to slow the ageing process would be the most important medical discovery in the modern era.

A new study published in the journal Oncotarget by researchers from Concordia and the Quebec-based biotech company Idunn Technologies may have uncovered an important factor: plant extracts containing the six best groups of anti-ageing molecules ever seen.

For the study, the research team combed through Idunn Technologies’ extensive biological library, conducting more than 10,000 trials to screen for plant extracts that would increase the chronological lifespan of yeast.

Why yeast? Cellularly speaking, ageing progresses similarly in both yeast and humans. It’s the best cellular model to understand how the anti-ageing process takes place.

“In total, we found six new groups of molecules that decelerate the chronological ageing of yeast,” says Vladimir Titorenko, the study’s senior author and a professor in the Department of Biology at Concordia.

He carried out the study with a group of Concordia students and Éric Simard, the founder of Idunn Technologies, which is named for the goddess of rejuvenation in Norse mythology.

This has important implications not only for slowing the ageing process, but also for preventing certain diseases associated with ageing, including cancer.

“Rather than focus on curing the individual disease, interventions on the molecular processes of ageing can simultaneously delay the onset and progression of most age-related disorders,” says Simard, who notes that these new molecules will soon be available in commercial products.

“This kind of intervention is predicted to have a much larger effect on healthy ageing and life expectancy than can be attained by treating individual diseases."

“These results also provide new insights into mechanisms through which chemicals extracted from certain plants can slow biological ageing,” says Titorenko.

An extract of willow bark has shown to be one of the most potent longevity-extending pharmacological interventions yet described in scientific literature. An extract of willow bark has shown to be one of the most potent longevity-extending pharmacological interventions yet described in scientific literature.

One of these groups of molecules is the most potent longevity-extending pharmacological intervention yet described in scientific literature: a specific extract of willow bark.

Willow bark was commonly used during the time of Hippocrates, when people were advised to chew on it to relieve pain and fever. The study showed that it increases the average and maximum chronological lifespan of yeast by 475 per cent and 369 per cent, respectively. This represents a much greater effect than rapamycin and metformin, the two best drugs known for their anti-ageing effects.

“These six extracts have been recognized as non-toxic by Health Canada, and already exhibit recognized health benefits in humans,” says Simard.

“But first, more research must be done. That’s why Idunn Technologies is collaborating with four other universities for six research programs, to go beyond yeast, and work with an animal model of ageing, as well as two cancer models.”

Partners in research: This study was supported in part by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Concordia University Graduate Fellowship Award, the Concordia University Chair Fund and the Concordia University Undergraduate Research Award.

The co-authors of this study are Vicky Lutchman, Younes Medkour, Eugenie Samson, Anthony Arlia-Ciommo, Pamela Dakik, Berly Cortes, Rachel Feldman, Sadaf Mohtashami, Mélissa McAuley, Marisa Chancharoen, Belise Rukundo and Vladimir I. Titorenko (Concordia); Éric Simard (Idunn Technologies).

Read the cited study, Discovery of plant extracts that greatly delay yeast chronological aging and have different effects on longevity-defining cellular processes, led by Vladimir Titorenko, a professor in the Department of Biology at Concordia.



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