Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have uncovered a molecule in the pomegranate fruit which can prolong the lifespan of animal models. The co-authors who published in Nature went to co-found a biotech Amazentis to develop the wonder molecule into clinical trials.
There are many underlying factors to what happens to our bodies as we age. However, our obsession with how to find that one ‘cure’ for aging is in part why stories like that of BioViva, whose CEO underwent experimental gene therapy outside the US to reduce her age, have risen to infamy.
But the most accessible route by which people look to combat the onset of age-related chronic diseases is through nutrition and access to ‘superfoods‘. The pomegranate fruit, Punica granatum, is one such example of a superfood loaded with anti-oxidants, making the fruit exceptionally popular in the food and drinks industries. Now we know precisely why; intestinal bacteria in our guts transform a molecule contained in the fruit to spectacular effect.
Part of the reason we age is due to the build up of cellular waste through old mitochondria, as cells increasingly struggle to recycle them efficiently. In pomegranate, a molecule was found to therefore re-establish the cell’s ability to recycle the old mitochondria – and this was urolithin A.
This process, referred to as mitophagy, is not known to be re-triggered by any other molecule. However, urolithin A is not actually contained within the pomegranate, but is a direct product of the breakdown of ellagitannins by our gut microbiome.
Researchers therefore tested the effect of urolithin A on model C. elegans, which have a natural life-span of 8-10 days. It was found that the worms exposed to urolithin A has an increased by more than 45% compared with the control group.
Shocked by these results, the group went on to then test the molecule in mouse models to find a similar 42% was achieved (but this time testing the endurance in running in older mice – around 2 years old). They published these results in Nature Medicine and according to one co-author, Johan Aurex (in the cover photo):
The nutritional approach opens up territory that traditional pharma has never explored. It’s a true shift in the scientific paradigm.”
However, for those without the right microbes in their guts, the scientists are already working on a solution. The study’s co-authors founded a startup, Amazentis, which has developed a method to deliver finely calibrated doses of urolithin A and is currently conducting first clinical trials testing the molecule in humans in European hospitals.
Given the microbiome is a relatively new field too, and this is an extension of clinical trials related to the microbiome, the idea of nutrition based therapeutics is an increasingly popular area of medicine.
Feature Image Credit: EPFL researchers and last author Johan Auwerx – © EPFL / Alain Herzog