A protein has shown so much potential to reverse aging that it’s been named NANOG, a name derived from Tír na nÓg, a place in Irish folklore renowned for everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance, and joy.
The name of this so-called Fountain of Youth protein is well deserved because it’s been shown to turn back the clock—at least at a cellular level, where aging begins.
These new findings could one day result in new treatments to cure age-related diseases, and perhaps even reverse aspects of human aging itself.
NANOG is so powerful because it affects adult stem cells. Adult stem cells are non-specialized cells found in all tissues of the body. They can be mobilized rapidly to repair damaged tissue and regenerate organs. But with aging, fewer stem cells can carry out these tasks, leading to age-related diseases.
Rebooting these failing stem cells to overcome the effects of aging would therefore have the potential to cure diseases of all kinds.
NANOG Brings Dormant Cells Back to Life
The University of Buffalo in New York has been involved in NANOG research for over a decade. They published their first scientific findings in 2012 when they showed how the NANOG protein upregulates important genes involved in the cell cycle, improves replication of DNA, and limits DNA damage. They concluded that NANOG could potentially overcome the effects of aging and be used in cellular therapy and tissue regeneration to help heal disease.
Four years later they published findings from a series of experiments showing that cellular processes that had become dormant, leading to age-related health problems, could be kick-started back into action. These cellular processes are key to preventing weak bones, clogged arteries, inflammation and other typical signs of aging.
The New York researchers also discovered that NANOG opens two major cellular pathways that jumpstart dormant proteins. These proteins provide adult stem cells with the raw materials they need to form muscle cells that contract and generate force, processes that decline in stem cells with aging.
Their work focused on smooth muscle cells which reside in the walls of the blood vessels, intestines, bladder, and other tissues, but since the protein activated the central regulator of muscle formation, they believe the results they achieved would likely be applicable to most other types of muscle cells as well.
What’s more, NANOG worked in all three models they tested, whether cells isolated from aged donors, cells aged in laboratory cultures, or cells isolated from patients with progeria, a rare and rapid aging syndrome that mostly afflicts children. These results are encouraging to say the least.
The Potential to Reverse Aging
Lead author Stelios Andreadis said, “Our research into NANOG is helping us to better understand the process of aging. Not only does NANOG have the capacity to delay aging, it has the potential in some cases to reverse it.”
In their most recent paper published in the journal Science Advances in September, the team carried out another series of experiments in which they overexpressed NANOG in myoblasts (embryonic cells that are precursors of muscle tissue) that were senescent, meaning these were cells that were no longer able to divide and grow.
As a result, many of the characteristics of aging were changed. These included autophagy (the removal of damaged and dysfunctional cells), energy homeostasis or balance, genome stability (DNA/RNA repair and replication), and mitochondrial (cellular energy) function. In mice with progeria, NANOG increased the number of muscle stem cells. In oher words, NANOG demonstrated that it could reverse aging at a cellular level.
Professor Andreadis hopes drugs that mimic the anti-aging effects of the protein can be developed. “Ultimately, the work could help lead to new treatments or therapies that help reverse cellular senescence, and aid the many people suffering from age-related disorders,” he said.