Editing a gene in mice allows them to live up to 20% longer and protects them against cancer, scientists have found.
Researchers today hailed the results as a ‘big surprise’, saying they had yet to find any negative side effects.
And the team, from Taiwan, believe the benefits could one day apply to humans as well.
Rodents have been genetically modified in the laboratory to have a mutated version of the KLF1 gene.
These mice ended up living longer, were exceptionally active in middle age, and didn’t turn gray that early, the experts claimed.
Pushing their anti-aging experiment further, the Academia Sinica researchers then decided to inject a group of unmodified mice with the blood of rodents that lived longer.
The study showed that the genetic modification rejuvenated the mice’s cells and delayed age-related deterioration in their memory and heart, liver and kidney health. The mutated supply of the KLF1 protein, found in a range of blood cells, was administered to mice by a team from the Institute of Molecular Biology at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.
The Office for National Statistics predicts that the life expectancy of men born in 2070 in the UK will reach an average age of 85, while women will be almost 88 when they die.
Mice receiving the modified protein “generally” lived five months longer, an increase of around 20%.
Two-month-old mice are roughly equivalent to 18-year-olds, according to New Scientist, which first reported the results.
They also remained healthier for longer, with their physical and mental performance beginning to decline later than the unmodified mice.
All humans already carry the KLF1 gene, which regulates the production of new red blood cells.
The results, published on the pre-print website, bioRxiv, also revealed that mice given the mutated KLF1 via a single bone marrow cell transplant, “appeared to have significantly higher anti-cancer capacity” than normal mice. .
They showed “reduced tumor growth” and a lower “spontaneous cancer incidence” rate, according to the researchers, at 12.5% compared to 75% in mice that did not undergo the procedure.
The cancer resistance of KLF1-mutated mice did not depend on their age, gender or genetic background, the scientists also found.
Overall, the results “demonstrated the feasibility” of a new approach to blood cell production “to fight disease and aging,” the researchers said.
One of the scientists, Che-Kun James Shen, said: “So far, we haven’t found any negative side effects.”
The researchers also later injected modified cells, which show similarities to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in mice.
ALS, a common form of incurable motor neuron disease, is a rare disease that progressively damages parts of the nervous system.
This leads to muscle weakness, often with visible atrophy.
Mice with the mutated KLF1 genes were found to have significantly slower disease progression, the researchers said.
Responding to the researchers’ findings, Professor Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, a molecular biogerontologist at the University of Birmingham, said: “I am convinced of the life-prolonging properties of this mutation.”
Gene editing of blood stem cells could also have “great potential as a therapy for aging”, he added.
It comes as previous studies have also shown that infusions of young blood plasma could invigorate aging organs and tissues, leading researchers to rush to produce and test plasma-based therapies.
But while studies have found benefits for rodents, there’s no evidence to date that this approach to youth will help humans dodge the passage of time.