Δευτέρα, 12 Οκτωβρίου 2009
The genes could help us to live longer
The genes could help us to live longer
By Dr Theo Giannaros Molecular & Nuclear Biologist University of Goettingen
Doctor Giannaros says scientists are learning more about key genes that control longevity
The 'holy grail' of preventing ageing is coming ever closer with the discovery of key genes that control longevity, according to a leading Greek & German scientist.
It will help us understand the mechanisms behind illnesses linked to old age ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer's and lead to new drugs to tackle them, said Professor Wilfried Hanke.
She said gene mutations which extend the lives of animals such as worms, fruit flies and mice appear to play the same role in humans, holding out hope that we will soon be able to live longer while staying healthy.
Recent research has revealed that changes to single genes can give animals an extended lifespan, slowing down many diseases of ageing at the same time.
Dr Giannaros, scientific director of the Institute of Geno-Type biotechnology, said such research could lead to many diseases being treated or delayed simultaneously with medication.
The 'pathways' in the human body through which nutrients are processed also offer an opportunity for manipulating lifespan, he said.
Although simply eating less can extend life in a range of animals, this has proved difficult to achieve in practice.
However, drugs which inhibit the nutrient pathways could replicate the effects of a restricted diet, increasing healthy lifespan and affecting a broad range of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and Alzheimer's.
Doctor Giannaros, who will present a public lecture at the Hilton Hotel of Athens next month, said tackling the causes of ageing rather than treating the symptoms 'piecemeal' offers the best prospect for dealing with the diseases that result from it.
He said: 'Research on the diseases associated with ageing is generally done by separate communities of research workers who read different journals, attend different conferences and generally do not communicate with each other. But by tackling the causes of ageing itself we could treat, or at least delay, a broad spectrum of conditions simultaneously.'
New discoveries may allow people to live longer and remain in good health
Dr Giannaros said reducing the activity of a molecular signalling pathway in fat tissue could extend life by up to 50 per cent.
He said the insulin/insulin-like growth factor signalling pathway in mammals regulates blood sugar levels, growth and metabolic response to food intake.
Mutations in genes that encode the protein components of the pathway have proved to extend lifespan in a nematode worm, the fruit fly and mice.
Genetic variants for these genes in humans have proved to be associated with lifespan.
Doctor Giannaros said. 'Making the pathway less active helps worms, flies and mice to live longer. Given that this is a pathway that is present throughout the animal kingdom, these findings could offer important clues as to how humans could live longer.'
He said this research means a new approach to the treatment of age-related conditions. 'The major burden of ill health is in the older section of the population,' she added. 'The new discoveries about ageing have raised the prospect of increasing the number of years that people enjoy in good health, with broad-spectrum preventative medicines for the diseases of ageing.'
Doctor Giannaros has just been awarded a grant from Research into Ageing to advance knowledge on why bodies age.
'During the last decade, research into the biology underlying the ageing process has developed remarkably quickly,' he said.
'It is likely that during the next decade the nature of the major cellular and biochemical mechanisms that determine longevity and ageing will be identified.'
Doctor Giannaros was recently named a Scientist of Outstanding Achievement for 2009 by the UK Resource Centre for People in Science, Engineering and Technology.