Scientists may have found a way for humans to live longer lives by tweaking a part of the brain that is said to be a "biological command center for the aging process."
The part of the brain that controls biological aging is about the size of a nut, and is in the hypothalamus deep inside the brain. They found they could lengthen the life of mice by a fifth if they block a chemical called NF-kB from forming in that part of the brain.
The animals did not suffer from muscle weakness, bone loss or memory problems that happen with age. It has many hoping for a medication that prevents age-related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's.
"We're very excited about this. It supports the idea that aging is more than a passive deterioration of different tissues. It is under control, and can be manipulated," Donsheng Cai at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine said.
Their research was published in journal "Nature," and explained that they found a chemical called NF-kB that was more active in the hypothalamus of mice as they became older. If they blocked this chemical, the mice lived up to 1,100 days compared to the 600 to 1000 days of a normal one. After boosting NF-kB, the mice died within 900 days.
Upon researching it further, they found that NF-kB lowered levels of a hormone called GnRH, which is known for playing a central role in fertility and the development of sperm and eggs. If scientists gave mice daily boosts of GnRH, they discovered this also extended their lives and prompted neurons to grow.
Cai believes there are multiple ways of slowing down the aging process, including drugs that reduce the level of NF-kB in the brain and raise levels of GnRH.
"For now, we are going to work on understanding the mechanism," he said.
Bruce Yankner of Harvard Medical School and Dana Gabuzda of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute said, if these results are the same in humans, it could have "important implications for our understanding and treatment of age-related diseases."
"The idea that aging can be globally influenced by hormones produced in the brain is of great interest to scientists," Yankner said. "Given the many effects of these hormones, however, their clinical use in diseases of aging, such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and heart disease, will need to be carefully studied."'