Our medical science has become quite adept at extending the human lifespan, leading to the presence of centenarians as commonplace in our culture. However, the race to find ways to keep the population healthy as it grows older – to stave off the actual effects of aging – has been a difficult one. Recently, researchers at Moscow State University have made a successful test of a new medication that slowed the aging process and extended the lifespan of mice, a medication that may very well work to improve the conditions of humans as we grow older.
The molecule, labeled SkQ1 by its researchers, is described as a powerful antioxidant that specifically targets the oxidative byproducts produced by a cell’s mitochondria. Mitochondria are miniature organelles that are found within most cells, that take in glucose and convert it to a chemical called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) that the cell can then convert to usable energy. However, the process of producing ATP can also produce free radicals, molecules that can cause damage within the cell, that in turn contributes to the aging process of the overall organism. Antioxidants, however, have been found to suppress the chemical reactions caused by these free radicals, and are believed to help slow the aging process.
SkQ1 itself is different from most other antioxidants, in that it can enter the mitochondrion itself, to block the reactions of free radicals at the source before they can damage these all-important energy centers. In the experiment, SkQ1 was found to delay the aging process in the test mice by 40-45 days over the mice that weren’t fed the supplement in the control group. Overall, the SkQ1-administered mice also had lifespans that were 15 percent longer than their control counterparts.
"This work is relevant both from theoretical and practical point of view. On the one hand, it has demonstrated the key role that reactive oxygen species [free radicals] produced by mitochondria play in the aging of a mammalian organism," explains Vladimir Skulachev, Dean of Moscow State University’s Faculty of Bioinformatics. "On the other hand, we have found new opportunities for the aging treatment with antioxidants, specifically targeting the mitochondria."