According to a paper published in the journal Cell, leading aging researcher Leonard Guarente has shown that activating a protein called SIRT1 appears to treat Alzheimer’s in mice. Guarente is on the scientific advisory board of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, a company that has been studying SIRT1 and other proteins known as sirtuins, which its scientists believe are important in the aging process. Sirtris was bought by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million in 2008.
Guarente’s research showed that increasing the level of SIRT1 in the brains of mice lowered the production of beta-amyloid plaques–fragments that build up in the brain and are believed to cause memory loss and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Not surprisingly, the finding garnered some skepticism. Dr. Howard Fillit, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, pointed out to the Boston Globe that Alzheimer’s has been cured over 150 times in mice–but never in people. Even the scientists engaged in sirtuin research caution that their findings might not translate into therapies for humans.
Nevertheless, this sort of news will likely boost demand for resveratrol, the red wine supplement that many natural-health enthusiasts believe can extend life. Enthusiasm for resveratrol was sparked by Sirtris co-founder and Harvard scientist David Sinclair, who first proposed the idea that the natural compound might activate sirtuins and extend life.
Since then, Sirtris and Glaxo have moved on to study much more potent sirtuin activators. And Sinclair has pointed out many times that you’d have to drink an awful lot of red wine–or gobble down many bottles of resveratrol supplements–to get any benefit.
That hasn’t stopped the supplement industry from capitalizing on resveratrol fever, though. According to Nutrition Business Journal, media hype generated $30 million in resveratrol sales in 2008, and many supplement sellers are forecasting 100% increases in demand each year. This despite the fact that resveratrol has never been shown to have any therapeutic effect in humans.
And now we have this Alzheimer’s development. Can you hear the cash registers ringing at your local health food store?