London: Scientists have discovered that manipulating genes could be key to a longer and healthier life.
In a pioneering experiment, researchers slowed down the ageing process using a novel gene therapy treatment, the Daily Express reported.
Now they expect that the laboratory breakthrough will one day lead to the creation of a pill that could extend life by decades and prevent or reverse diseases like cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease.
Researchers based at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre, who conducted the work, asserted that the technique could be used in human trials.
“I am very excited about this. It is the first time we have shown a way to increase longevity and health span with gene therapy without side-effects,” Dr Maria Blasco, the biologist who led the research, said.
“The ageing of our cells is the main cause of disease. This breakthrough could extend or reduce the incidence of conditions such as cancer and heart disease, while increasing lifespan.”
The team examined a natural enzyme called telomerase. The enzyme is found in human foetuses and it is thought that it has the ability to keep the body young and rejuvenate cells. It is no longer active or “expressed” in adults.
By compelling it to become active again by genetic manipulation, the scientists slowed down the ageing process in mice by 24 per cent.
The research relies on the principle that ageing cells accumulate damage in their DNA. Telomerase has been found to mend or delay this damage.
Previous tests that showed it is possible to lengthen the life of species, including mammals, by manipulating specific genes were too dangerous to be conducted in humans.
However, it is hoped that this new process will be safe for humans.
In the experiments, the lifespan of the mice augmented and their health improved.
The onset of age-related diseases like osteoporosis and diabetes was delayed and they indicated improvements on ageing indicators such as muscle coordination.
The study has been published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.