Researchers originally focused on iron due to its links to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. As the nematode C. elegans aged, levels of copper, iron, manganese and calcium increased. Researchers then discovered that iron accumulated at a much greater rate than the other metals. They altered the nematode's diet and found that four day old nematodes that were fed iron for two days resembled fifteen day-old nematodes. It's believed that the iron was the accelerator in their rapid aging process.
Researchers expected to find changes due to oxidative stress, however they actually witnessed a normal aging process. Iron created dysfunction and the build-up of proteins. This is typical of the aging process, so scientists believe that the iron was driving aging.
In addition the scientists also tested the nematodes with CaEDTA; a metal chelator typically associated with treatment of people at risk from lead poisoning. The chelator reduced the age-related build-up of iron, and increased the lifespan of the nematodes. CaDETA also shielded nematodes that were genetically bred to produce protein aggregations associated with human diseases.
Dr Lithgow was the lead author of the study. He concluded that maintaining a proper balance of metals is essential to good health, while it's also apparent that the precious balance can be upset with age. He stressed that the phenomenon has yet to be extensively studied and that this is an exciting area for future exploration.
As the human body ages, metals build up in its tissue, and it's understood that neurological diseases are directly related to toxic iron levels. New research has come to light that proves iron accumulation is a major factor in aging. The Buck Institute published its findings on aging online, with results that counter the prior belief that iron is a byproduct of the aging process.