Wednesday, 27 Sep 2023

Scientists discover gene that could help humans live longer

Scientists have successfully improved the lifespan of mice by transferring a gene from naked mole rats responsible for longevity.

The gene, called hyaluronan synthase 2 (HAS2), is responsible for producing hyaluronic acid, a sticky molecule that helps to protect cells from damage.

Naked mole rats produce more hyaluronic acid than other rodents, which may be one reason they are so long-lived.

Hyaluronic acid is a molecule found in the jelly-like substance surrounding cells. It is a major component of connective tissue and plays a role in wound healing, joint lubrication, and immune function.

Researchers at the University of Rochester genetically modified mice to produce the naked mole rat version of the HAS2 gene.

This led to improved health and an approximate 4.4% increase in the median lifespan of the modified mice, which were also more cancer-resistant.

‘Our study provides a proof of principle that unique longevity mechanisms that evolved in long-lived mammalian species can be exported to improve the lifespans of other mammals,’ said Dr Vera Gorbunova, one of the study’s authors.

Naked mole rats are hairless rodents known for their long lifespan and cancer resistance. In the wild, these animals can live for up to 30 years, which is ten times longer than other rodents of their size. In captivity, they have been known to live for even longer, up to 35 years.

The researchers had previously discovered that HMW-HA is one mechanism responsible for naked mole rats’ unusual resistance to cancer.

Compared to mice and humans, naked mole rats have about ten times more HMW-HA in their bodies. When the researchers removed this from naked mole rat cells, they were more likely to form tumours.

The recent findings open new possibilities for improving lifespan and reducing inflammation-related diseases in humans.

‘It took us 10 years from the discovery of HMW-HA in the naked mole rat to showing that HMW-HA improves health in mice,’ said Dr Gorbunova. ‘Our next goal is to transfer this benefit to humans.’

‘We already have identified molecules that slow down hyaluronan degradation and are testing them in pre-clinical trials,’ said Dr Andrei Seluanov, another author on the study.

‘We hope that our findings will provide the first, but not the last, example of how longevity adaptations from a long-lived species can be adapted to benefit human longevity and health.’

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