Nanoparticles originally developed for industry have an unexpected effect: They triple or even quadruple the life of rat brain cells, suggesting that they could help extend human lifespan and decrease age-related health problems.

It has been predicted that nanotechnology will revolutionize modern medicine, through such things as new materials that are more easily absorbed by human cells.

Discovering the health effects of one such material, a nano-oxide particle, involved a collaboration between a molecular biologist and a nanoscientist at the University of Central Florida.

Antioxidant nanotechnology

The two researchers are Beverly Rzigalinski, an assistant molecular biology professor, and Sudipta Seal, an associate engineering professor.

Rzigalinski focuses on how brain cells “talk” to each other and most recently has been focusing on microglia — specialized cells that respond to brain injury and initiate a response to either repair or destroy damaged neurons.

Seal creates nanomaterials and recently developed a process for engineering particles on a nanoscale to be more efficient in industrial applications.

In response to publicity surrounding antioxidants and their antiaging properties, Rzigalinski decided to introduce some of Seal’s particles to the brain cells of rats.

“In culture, rat brain cells usually live about three weeks,” Rzigalinski said. “The cells exposed to the engineered nanoparticles lived three to four times longer.”

Longer life

Rzigalinski repeated the experiment multiple times to confirm the results, and found that cells exposed to a single dose of engineered nano-oxide particles routinely outlived untreated cells by three to four times.

Next, Rzigalinski explored the quality of the aged neurons and found they were signaling or “talking” to each other in the same manner as their youthful counterparts.

“This shows there is a potential not just to extend the lifespan but to preserve function,” says Rzigalinski.

Free radicals

The particles appear to address free radical damage, thought to be a major component of aging.

They also appear to regenerate once they penetrate a cell, which if true means that one dose could provide therapeutic effects indefinitely.

Based on their results, Rzigalinski and Seal have received US$1.4 million from the US National Institute on Aging to further study the reaction as well as possible future applications.

Rzigalinski first introduced the collaboration to her colleagues at the Nature Biotechnology symposium in Miami earlier this year.

She has also submitted an abstract of the work to the National and International Neurotrauma Symposium and the Society for Neuroscience.
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