Sci. Aging Knowl. Environ., 4 June 2003
New program will scrutinize potential methods for life span extension
Key Words: oxidative phosphorylation insulin-like growth factor-1
Molecular geneticists had the Human Genome Project, and now researchers who study aging have an endeavor that they hope will produce authoritative source material. A new National Institute on Aging (NIA) program aims both to rigorously assess treatments that are hypothesized to stem aging and to probe how such agents or diets might work. The undertaking will incorporate ideas from the whole biogerontology community.
Forever seeking a rejuvenation pill, consumers are gobbling antioxidants faster than Viagra. But the evidence that vitamin E--or anything else--prolongs youth is shaky. Investigations of purported life-extenders in model organisms are "fraught with minor problems" that undercut their conclusions, says biochemist Huber Warner of NIA in Bethesda, Maryland. For example, some treatments have produced lightweight animals, suggesting that they curb appetite; such observations raise the possibility that calorie restriction--a well-established method of life extension for some mammals (see Masoro Review)--rather than the drug underlies the magic. So NIA has established the Interventions Testing Program to assess compounds and diets with a degree of thoroughness and on a scale that would be prohibitive for individual investigators. Researchers will not simply use life span as the endpoint but will delve into the physiological effects of the test strategies, says Warner.
NIA has awarded 5-year grants to three labs, which will test five to seven compounds--such as a battery of antioxidants--every year. Because the labs will study the same compounds simultaneously, it will quickly become apparent whether the effects are consistent. A steering committee will choose the treatments to investigate; this committee includes representatives of the labs and NIA, along with three additional experts in the field. NIA will ask all scientists who receive NIA funding to nominate compounds or diets, and it has a suggestion box on its Web site. "We want to get as many people interested in participating as possible," says gerontologist Richard Miller of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, one of the three awardees. "The program should be viewed as a national resource." David Harrison of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Donald Ingram of NIA's branch in Baltimore have won the other two grants.
Once the steering committee--which so far includes George Martin of the University of Washington, Seattle, as the first of the three expert members--has decided which interventions to test, the investigators will determine if and how much the method extends the lives of about 100 mice. To pinpoint the biological impact of the agents, the researchers will evaluate compounds that clear this first hurdle for their effects on, for example, oxidative stress, immune function, insulin-like signaling, and muscle strength. Successes in mice could lead to studies in humans.
"It's a great idea," says neuroendocrinologist William Sonntag of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "The program is a way to jump-start our understanding of the processes of aging." Just as geneticists deciphered the book of life, perhaps gerontologists will decode the book of longer life.
June 4, 2003
Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150