Researchers have been talking about therapies based on enhanced levels of autophagy for about as long as I’ve been paying attention to the field of aging research. Autophagy is a collection of processes responsible for breaking down and recycling damaged structures and unwanted proteins in cells. More aggressively removing harmful or malfunctioning cellular systems and wastes reduces the amount of time they exist to cause problems, and results in better functioning of cells and tissues. Ultimately, more autophagy modestly slows aging and allows individuals to live longer. Many of the varied methods of manipulating metabolism to slow aging demonstrated over the past few decades appear to either depend on autophagy or include increased autophagy among their mechanisms of action.
Despite all of the talking – and the many papers and years of work examining various controlling mechanisms associated with autophagy – there is as yet no real progress towards therapeutics that work via the deliberate, targeted upregulation of autophagy. That is if we don’t count things like calorie restriction mimetics, which improve autophagy along the way of changing many other aspects of metabolism. Calorie restriction itself appears to stop producing benefits to health if autophagy is disabled. Calorie restriction mimetics
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