Researchers have been studying the effects of the red wine compound resveratrol on age-related diseases for several years, trying to understand exactly how it works. Now a study in mice at Harvard University suggests resveratrol may actually stimulate a gene that helps repair damaged DNA.
"The interesting thing that they showed is that they could use either resveratrol or other means to increase the activity of SIRT1 to increase activity in the genes that are being repaired," said Aimee Kao, a researcher at UCSF's Memory and Aging Center.
Dr. Kao says the gene SIRT1 which responds to the red wine compound, helps regulate certain molecules that play a positive role when a cell is under duress.
"When you damage a cell or an organism using UV light, or in their case they used hydrogen peroxide... that molecule, SIRT1, moves away from certain genes and on to other genes where it helps to repair the damaged DNA," said KAO.
That mechanism could soon have medical applications. A company started by one of the Harvard researchers has already been conducting clinical trials using a form of resveratrol to treat diabetes.
"This is not science fiction any more. We are actually talking about real drug candidates in human studies, targeting diseases of aging, by targeting the genes that control the aging process," said Christoph Westphal with Sirtris Pharmaceuticals.
In the latest study, the Harvard team reported that the mice also lived longer with their lifespans extended anywhere from 25 to 45 percent.
"The link that they make is that if you can keep the DNA healthy, you can keep the cells healthy, you can keep the organism healthy, and maybe extend lifespan, or what they like to call health span which is keep people healthier for longer and prevent diseases like Alzheimers or cancer or other age related diseases," said Kao.
Sinclair's team at Harvard has also been puruing a parallel line of research, testing whether restricting calories might also affect the SIRT1 gene, effectively promoting healthy cells.