Cambridge, England – The Methuselah Foundation has awarded biochemist Mark Hamalainen an annual grant of $70,000 to conduct “MitoSENS” anti-aging research as a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge. Under the auspices of the British Government’s Medical Research Council, at its Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, Hamalainen will investigate methods for obviating damage suffered by mitochondrial DNA, a major source of many of the debilities of aging.
Mitochondria are the components of cells that perform cellular respiration. They react oxygen with nutrients to generate water, carbon dioxide and usable energy (in the form of ATP). An unavoidable side effect of this energetic process is the production of reactive chemical byproducts, which damage nearby components of the cell. Mitochondria are unique in that they possess their own DNA (mtDNA), distinct and separate from the nucleus. Given its location, the mtDNA is highly exposed to the reactive byproducts of cellular respiration. Exacerbating the situation, mitochondria possess a severely limited capacity to repair DNA damage, when compared to the sophisticated repair systems of the nucleus.
Mutations to the mtDNA inevitably accumulate, leading to mitochondrial dysfunction, thus contributing to aging of the organism. The goal of MitoSENS is to obviate mtDNA mutations by expressing mtDNA genes from the nucleus, concluding a process long since initiated by evolution. The mitochondrial genome originally comprised thousands of genes, but evolution has reduced this number to a mere 13 (protein encoding) genes in humans. By studying how nature transferred expression of other genes from the mitochondria to the nucleus, Hamalainen will attempt to identify the necessary steps to transfer the remaining 13 genes.
Ian Holt, Ph.D., head of Mitochondrial Diseases research at the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit, commented, “For over 30 years mutations in mitochondrial DNA have been suspected to be important contributors to aging. If we can incorporate working copies of that mtDNA into our nuclear DNA, the mtDNA will be rendered superfluous and any mutations it suffers will be inconsequential. Researchers have tried to do this for many years, with only limited success. The work that Mark will perform in my lab is the most systematic attempt yet to get this technology to work.”
Methuselah Foundation Chairman Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D., who devised the “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence” (SENS) methodology for combating the mechanisms of aging, said, “We are delighted to be working with the Medical Research Council on this groundbreaking project – a further demonstration that goal-directed approaches to defeating the debilities caused by aging are rapidly moving into the scientific mainstream.”
SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) is a detailed plan for alleviating the debilitation caused by human aging. SENS is an engineering project, reflecting the fact that aging is a medical condition and that medicine is an engineering discipline. Aging is a set of progressive changes in body composition, at the molecular and cellular level, which are side effects of essential metabolic processes; each of these changes has the potential to be mitigated and eventually reversed. Further details of SENS can be found at: www.sens.org
About the Methuselah Foundation
The Methuselah Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to accelerating the development of foreseeable, science-based therapies to combat aging. Its main activities are the funding of SENS research, and the Methuselah Mouse Prize, which is being offered to the scientific research teams that significantly extend the lifespan of middle-aged laboratory mice. Further details of the Methuselah Foundation can be found at: www.methuselahfoundation.org
About the Dunn Human Nutrition Unit
The DHNU, a unit of the British Government-funded Medical Research Council, studies the fundamental processes of human nutrition, especially in energy metabolism, the involvement of these processes in human disease and ageing, and the impact of diet on human health and longevity. Further details of the DHNU can be found at: www.mrc-dunn.cam.ac.uk