London: Scientists claim they may have finally found an "elixir of life" by discovering eight genes which could hold the key to a long and healthy life.
An international team, led by King`s College London, has pinpointed the eight genetic variations which control the production of a crucial hormone which is linked to old age as
well as diseases of the elderly.
The scientists believe that by manipulating the DNA strands they could slow down the ageing process and ward off age-related conditions.
According to them, the genes control levels of the steroid dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), one of the most abundant in the body and vital to many key functions; and, if this steroid could be altered, then the ageing process
could be slowed down, `The Daily Telegraph` reported.
Team leader Dr Guangju Zhai said the discovery will help researchers gauge how much the steroid is to blame.
"It has been a mystery how DHEAS functions. This new research offers a new insight into how the body controls levels of DHEAS and why it dwindles with age."
Previous studies have shown that the steroid reaches a peak around 25 or 30. But as people get older, levels plummet.
By the time people reach 85 years it diminishes by 95 percent. In the latest research, the scientists have established links between declining DHEAS levels and diseases
such as type 2 diabetes and lymphoma, as well as a decreased lifespan after analysing DHEAS levels and 2.5 million genetic variants in 14,846 people from Europe and the US.
The results identified eight common genes that controlled the concentration of DHEAS, with some of those genes associated with ageing and age-related diseases such as
type 2 diabetes and lymphoma.
Dr Zhai said that while taking it could theoretically slow down the ageing process, it was too early to say for sure how effective it could be. "It is hoped through manipulation
or gene therapy we could slow down the ageing process or the affect of age related diseases," he said.
The scientists now plan to spend the rest of the year looking closely at each gene in the hope of discovering more.
"The next stage will be to identify which genes have which function, and which have a particular effect on DHEAS levels. Once this is identified that could be the next stage
in coming up with technology to manipulate the genes and maybe even get the body to increase DHEAS levels itself," he said.
Team member Prof Tim Spector added: "For 50 years we have observed the most abundant circulating steroid in the body, DHEAS, with no clue as to its role. Now its genes have shown us its importance in many parts of the ageing process."
The findings have been published in the latest edition of the `PLoS Genetics` journal.