By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology
A component of blood from young mice transformed the appearance and health of older mice. The discovery is part of aging and longevity research by Dr. Shin-ichiro Imai, MD, PhD, professor of developmental biology and medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Imai is expanding his research in hopes of developing an anti-aging therapeutic for productive aging.
“You might be amazed to think about the power of blood. If you look into anecdotal stories all over the world, everybody knows blood is important for our youth or for our health,” said Imai. “I’m always joking our discovery may reveal the secret of vampires and maybe twilight stories or something.”
While the references are made jokingly, Imai found a shred of truth about blood as it relates to youth. His focus is on a protein that performs a specific function. This enzyme, called NAMPT, nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase, is in our blood with levels that decline as we age.
Imai is focused on the role of the enzyme as it’s contained in small particles called extracellular vesicles, or EV’s, circulating in our blood. This extracellular NAMPT, or eNAMPT, is linked to a key chemical regulating the aging process called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD), which is found in all living cells and plays a role in generating energy. It has previously been shown to decline as we age. As NAD declines with age, so does energy metabolism causing age-associated problems.
Imai conducted studies by taking eNAMPT from the blood of younger mice and injecting it into older mice. That’s when Imai said he began to observe something very exciting happening. The mice lived longer and looked younger.
“The eNAMPT injected mice moved around very actively,” he said.
At the age of 29 months old, which is the equivalent of late 80’s in humans, the older mice without injections were moving very slowly. Comparing older mice with injections to those without, the mice with injections had a shinier fur coat and were healthier looking, whereas the mice without injections looked shabby and older.
“We see a variety of anti-aging effects in several tissues. We’re able to maintain the level of activity at a level of almost 12 months younger. One year younger means a lot for mice. If I dare to extrapolate to humans, it could mean people 70, 80 years old could maintain a 40, 50 year old’s level of physical activity. “
After being dosed with eNAMPT, the mice were better at producing insulin, the cells in their eyes respond to light worked better, their sleep quality improved, and they could run for longer on exercise wheels. When the mice carried out memory tests, their cognitive functions appeared to have become slicker.
The enzyme dose from the blood of young mice extended the lifespan of older mice by 16%, providing them with health benefits for productive aging.
Imai said continued research is showing more promising results. The paper is expected to be published in 2022.
“Our discovery about circulating NAMPT (eNAMPT) for it’s amazing effect about anti-aging means something very interesting and important,” said Imai. “I believe that blood has a very interesting power for our health.”