Joslin investigators urge cosmetics groups to get into anti-aging R&D

Scientists interested in anti-aging research are being pointed to new treatments that build collagen or other proteins absorbed in the extracellular matrix (ECM) that supports body tissue and bone. And a team of researchers is suggesting that cosmetics companies--relentlessly focused on prolonging youthful looks--may be the best sponsors of R&D programs focused on these new pharmaceuticals.

A C. elegans worm--Courtesy of Bob Goldstein, UNC Chapel Hill

Working at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, scientists turned to the tiny C. elegans worm for their work. By trying out the various methods and treatments--like rapamycin and calorie restriction--believed to improve longevity, the investigators concluded that they all had one thing in common: They boosted collagen and firmed up the ECM. Logically, any other treatments that do the same are likely to produce the same outcome.

"Any longevity intervention that we looked at, whether genetic or nutritional or drugs, increased expression of collagen and other ECM genes, and enhanced ECM remodeling," says T. Keith Blackwell, senior and co-corresponding author on the paper. "If you interfere with this expression, you interfere with the lifespan extension. And if you over-express some of these genes, the worm actually lives a little bit longer."

The big idea here is that a little longer for C. elegans could translate into substantial gains on a human scale. Their prime focus in this study, which was published in Nature, was activating SKN-1, a master gene regulator that helps protect the worm from stress. The human counterpart is Nrf1/2/3. Any therapy that strengthens the scaffold should also help fight against the effects of chronic diseases.  

"The ultimate goal of aging research is to find processes that promote healthy aging by ensuring the quality of youthfulness late in life," says lead author Collin Ewald. "Other laboratories examining longevity treatments in the C. elegans worm had also detected higher expression of collagen genes, but those results were not followed up and people focused on processes that act within cells instead."

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