With a steady renewal of cell vitality in damaged tissues, this novel drug may one day result in the treatment or prevention of disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Globally, life expectancy has increased due to advances in health and technology, but improvements in the standard of living for the elderly have lagged far behind. One of the biggest problems facing medicine is extending life without deterioration in health. Professors Einav Gross and Shmuel Ben-Sasson of the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) are the authors of a recent study that has identified a group of molecules that allow cells to repair damaged components, allowing for those tissues to retain proper function.
A model organism was used to show the molecules’ efficacy. The research team looked at how different treatments affected lifespan and quality of life, and they were able to successfully demonstrate that they can protect both organisms and human cells from harm. Their research was published in the journal Autophagy.
Currently, the diminished efficiency of the cell’s quality-control mechanism, which results in the accumulation of defective mitochondria, is a significant contributor to the aging of tissues.
As Gross explained, “mitochondria, the cell’s ‘power plants,’ are responsible for energy production. They can be compared to tiny electric batteries that help cells function properly. Although these ‘batteries’ wear out constantly, our cells have a sophisticated mechanism that removes defective mitochondria and replaces them with new ones.”
However, this mechanism declines with age, leading to cell dysfunction and deterioration in tissue activity.
This degenerative process lies at the heart of many age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, and sarcopenia, which are on the rise. Gross and Ben-Sasson’s study may have far-reaching practical applications since their new technology, developed at Hebrew University, helped create innovative compounds to treat diseases that are currently incurable. The study also showed that these molecules can be used preventively.
“In the future, we hope we will be able to significantly delay the development of many age-related diseases and improve people’s quality of life,” shared Ben-Sasson. Further, these compounds are user-friendly and can be taken orally.
To advance their important research and translate it into medical treatment for a variety of patients, the research team, together with Yissum, Hebrew University’s tech transfer company, established Vitalunga, a startup that is currently developing this drug.
“Ben-Sasson’s and Gross’s findings have significant value for the global aging population,” noted Itzik Goldwaser, CEO of Yissum. “As Vitalunga advances towards pre-clinical studies, they’re closer than ever to minimizing the unbearable burden that aging-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, has on individuals, their families, and our health care systems.”
Reference: “Distinct designer diamines promote mitophagy, and thereby enhance healthspan in C. elegans and protect human cells against oxidative damage” by Vijigisha Srivastava, Veronica Zelmanovich, Virendra Shukla, Rachel Abergel, Irit Cohen, Shmuel A. Ben-Sasson and Einav Gross, 1 June 2022, Autophagy.
The study was funded by the Cleveland Clinic Center for Transformative Nanomedicine and the Israel Science Foundation.