SCIENTISTS have discovered a potential key to extending life which could lead to the development of new drugs to reduce the impact of ageing.
The researchers found that using a special supplement appeared to increase lifespan, delay the onset of disease and reduce cholesterol levels when given to mice.
The experts said the findings showed they could develop compounds which may help tackle the burden of age-related disease.
They believe their experiments could lead to drugs that help to keep people younger and healthier.
The research, published in the journal Cell Reports, focussed on a protein found in the body called sirtuin 1 (SIRT1).
SIRT1 and its sister protein SIRT2 are known to play a important roles in metabolism across a wide range of species.
They are involved in DNA repair and gene regulation, and may help to prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Studies in various organisms have shown that activating this protein can lead to many health benefits.
Other research has found that drugs that increase sirtuin 1 activity can slow the onset of ageing and delay age-related diseases in tests on animals.
The latest work, carried out by Dr Rafael de Cabo at the National Institute on Ageing at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland in the United States, tested the effects of a supplement called SRT1720 which increases the activity of sirtuin 1 in the body to see if it could improve the health and extend the lifespan of mice.
The animals were given the supplement from the age of six months and for the rest of their lives, alongside a standard diet.
The researchers found that SRT1720 managed to significantly extend the lives of mice given the supplement by 8.8 per cent.
It also appeared to reduce body weight and their percentage of body fat. The animals experienced improved muscle function and motor co-ordination throughout their lives.
In further studies, the scientists found that the supplement led to decreases in the mice’s levels of harmful cholesterol, which might help protect against heart disease. They also saw improvements in their sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which could help prevent diabetes.
The researchers said the studies also revealed that the supplements appeared to have an anti-inflammatory effect in different tissues, which was important because chronic inflammation is thought to contribute to ageing and age-related diseases.
Dr de Cabo said: “Here, we show for the first time that a synthetic SIRT1 activator extends lifespan and improves healthspan of mice fed a standard diet.
“It illustrates that we can develop molecules that ameliorate the burden of metabolic and chronic diseases associated with aging.”