Human World

How an anti-aging gene could extend lifespans

Lenny Guarente, a biology professor at MIT, is trying to learn how to manipulate the genes that could extend human life.

Lenny Guarente: One guide would be to look at what happens in the lab when you take a mouse and give it this diet that has adequate nutrition but low calories.

Guarente said a low-calorie diet – below 1,500 calories daily – triggers anti-aging genes called sirtuins.

Lenny Guarente: That can extend their life span by something like one-third.

Guarente said there’s an evolutionary reason for this.

Lenny Guarente: When conditions become harsh, and food is less available, what these sirtuin genes do is they shift the strategy towards maintenance, and that’s the state that would promote longevity and disease resistance.

Guarente said a drug might be developed to give the same effect as a low-calorie diet.

Lenny Guarente: So in principle, If things work the same in people as in mice, and you had a perfect drug, you might imagine that you could extend life span by 20 or 30 years. Being more realistic, drugs are not perfect. I think we could get 10 years of healthier living, and possibly longer living. So instead of getting whatever disease you want to talk about – osteoporosis, or cancer, even – instead of getting it at age 70, you get it later. Or, you don’t get it at all.

There’s more good news, for those who like red wine. A natural compound called resveratrol, found in red wine, may be able to provide these benefits without the strict diet.

Our thanks to:
Lenny Guarente
Professor of Biology
Cambridge, MA

August 5, 2008
Human World

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