Israeli researchers find new molecule that constantly renews cell vitality - study

The promising new molecule, found in diseased tissues by Hebrew University researchers, may eventually prevent age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Illustrative photo of two elderly people staring at a beach.  (photo credit: BRUNO AGUIRRE/UNSPLASH)
Illustrative photo of two elderly people staring at a beach.
(photo credit: BRUNO AGUIRRE/UNSPLASH)

A new Hebrew University (HU) of Jerusalem study has identified in lab models a group of molecules that make it possible for cells to repair damaged components, so the tissues that contain them can retain proper function. 

The promising new molecule, which has the ability to constantly renew cell vitality in diseased tissues, could eventually prevent age-related disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and increase life expectancy and wellness, said the Faculty of Medicine researchers. 

While breakthroughs in the world of medicine and technology account for the global increase in life expectancy, improvements in quality of life for the elderly population lag far behind. Longevity without a decline in health is one of the major challenges that face the world of medicine. 

What did the researchers find? 

Professors Einav Gross and Shmuel Ben-Sasson examined the effect of various therapies on longevity and quality of life and successfully proved that they can protect the organisms and human cells from damage.

Their findings were published in Autophagy under the title “Distinct designer diamines promote mitophagy, and thereby enhance healthspan in C. elegans and protect human cells against oxidative damage.” Autophagy is the process by which a cell breaks down and destroys old, damaged, or abnormal proteins and other substances in its cytoplasm.

A major factor in aging tissues today is the reduced effectiveness of the cell’s quality-control mechanism that leads to the accumulation of defective mitochondria, the cell’s “power plants” responsible for energy production.

They can be compared to tiny electric batteries that help cells function properly, said Gross. “Although these ‘batteries’ wear out constantly, our cells have a sophisticated mechanism that removes defective mitochondria and replaces them with new ones, but this mechanism declines with age, leading to cell dysfunction and deterioration in tissue activity.”

“Although these ‘batteries’ wear out constantly, our cells have a sophisticated mechanism that removes defective mitochondria and replaces them with new ones, but this mechanism declines with age, leading to cell dysfunction and deterioration in tissue activity.”

Prof. Einav Gross

This degenerative process lies at the heart of diseases of the elderly such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart failure and sarcopenia, an age-related, involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. Beginning as early as the fourth decade of life, this muscle mass and strength drop in a linear fashion, with up to half of mass being lost by the eighth decade. All of these conditions are on the rise. 

Gross and Ben-Sasson’s study could have far-reaching practical applications since the new HU technology helped create innovative compounds to treat diseases that are currently incurable. Their research also showed that these molecules can be used preventively. 

“In the future, we hope we will be able to significantly delay the development of many age-related diseases and improve people's quality of life," Ben-Sasson said. "These compounds are user-friendly and can be taken orally.”

To advance their research and translate it into medical treatments for a variety of patients, the research team – together with Yissum, HU’s research and development company, established Vitalunga – a startup that is currently developing such a drug. 

"Ben-Sasson and Gross’s findings have significant value for the global aging population,” Yissum CEO Itzik Goldwaser said. “As Vitalunga advances towards pre-clinical studies, they’re closer than ever to minimizing the unbearable burden that aging-related diseases has on individuals, their families and our healthcare system."