Colorado State University researchers exploring compounds that could extend lifespan

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While we’re still a long way from creating a pill that allows people to live longer, two Colorado State University researchers are studying plant-based compounds that show promise for extending lifespan.

Professor Karyn Hamilton and Associate Professor Benjamin Miller, co-directors of CSU’s Translational Research on Aging and Chronic Disease (TRACD) Laboratory in the Department of Health and Exercise Science, are working with biotechnology companies to investigate botanical combinations that help protect cells against stresses associated with aging.

“We just want to understand the aging process and how to slow it,” Miller said, adding that their ultimate goal is to extend humans’ “healthspan,” or the period of life free of chronic disease.

“No pill can do what exercise does for lifespan and, more importantly, healthspan, but maybe we can find a compound that works well in conjunction with exercise,” Hamilton added.

In 2011, the TRACD Lab had a proposal accepted by the National Institutes of Health to test the lifespan-extending effects of a compound called Protandim made by LifeVantage Corp. Protandim is a compound designed to activate Nrf2, which is a protein called a “transcription factor” that regulates the expression of protective genes in cells.

The project was part of the NIH/National Institute on Aging-Interventions Testing Program (ITP), a multi-institutional effort to investigate treatments with the potential to extend maximal lifespan using mouse models. The trial concluded that the Protandim treatment extended the median lifespan of mice — but only the males, not the females.

So Miller and Hamilton partnered with Pathways Bioscience to write a follow-up proposal to test a second-generation Nrf2 activator. The ITP recently approved that proposal, and testing will begin soon. Pathways Bioscience, along with Miller and Hamilton, also just received additional funding for the work through a Small Business Innovation Research award from the National Institute on Aging.

Among a variety of approaches to understand aging and promote increased healthspan, Hamilton and Miller study how activation of Nrf2 might increase the resistance of cells against the stresses associated with aging. Specifically, activation of Nrf2 might increase lifespan and healthspan by helping cells fight the negative health effects of oxidation and inflammation, two stresses that are part of cellular aging.

“If we can slow cellular aging, maybe we can also prevent or delay the onset of age-related chronic disease,” Hamilton explained.

The two expect results from the study on this newest Nrf2-activating compound within about three years.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.