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A single gene transfer could significantly extend human life

A team of scientists have changed how we think about getting old and living longer.
A team of scientists have changed how we think about getting old and living longer. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In a groundbreaking experiment, a team of scientists from the University of Rochester have changed how we think about getting old and living longer.


By transferring a single gene from one of nature's longest-living rodents, the naked mole rat, into mice, they've managed to extend the latter's lifespan. This research not only has vast implications for aging research but also opens a new frontier in medical science’s quest for extending human life.


 
 

The protagonist of this tale is the gene called hyaluronan synthase 2 (HAS2), responsible for the production of hyaluronic acid. This seemingly ordinary molecule found in the viscous, jelly-like substance enveloping our cells plays an extraordinary role. It is the guardian of cells, shield them from damage, lubricates our joints, accelerates wound healing, and even bolsters our immune function.


For the naked mole rat, which produces hyaluronic acid in far greater abundance than any other rodent, it's the key to a remarkably long and cancer-resistant life.


 

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“We’re on the brink of understanding the hidden mechanics of longevity,” began Dr. Vera Gorbunova, one of the luminary authors behind the study. “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.”


For the uninitiated, naked mole rats are not your average garden rodents. These fascinating, albeit hairless creatures, possess lifespans that dwarf that of their rodent counterparts. Living up to 30 years in the wild, they exceed the lifespan of other rodents their size by a staggering tenfold. Under human care, they've been observed to live even longer, celebrating their 35th birthdays in some cases.


 
 

What is the secret behind such extraordinary longevity? A part of the answer is the molecule HMW-HA (High Molecular Weight Hyaluronic Acid). The researchers had made a pivotal discovery in the past, shedding light on this molecule as one of the keys to the naked mole rats' tenacious resistance to cancer. Intriguingly, compared to mice and even us, humans, naked mole rats boast a concentration of HMW-HA that's ten times more abundant.


naked mole rat
“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,” says Rochester biologist Vera Gorbunova. “Our next goal is to transfer this benefit to humans.” (CREDIT: University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

“Deciphering the HMW-HA mystery took an entire decade,” commented Dr. Gorbunova, reflecting on their journey from the discovery of this molecule in the naked mole rat to its successful implementation in mice, which led to improved health, heightened resistance to cancer, and a noteworthy 4.4% increase in median lifespan. “Our next milestone is to transfer these astounding benefits to humans.”


 
 

But how can this knowledge be translated to benefit human longevity and health?


Dr. Andrei Seluanov, another distinguished author of the study, provides an insight, “Our labs are fervently identifying molecules that inhibit the breakdown of hyaluronic acid. We are currently putting them through rigorous pre-clinical trials. Our ambition, our hope, is that this breakthrough serves as the pioneering example — albeit not the last — of how we can harness the longevity adaptations from nature’s long-lived species for human benefit.”


HMM-HA improves the maintenance of ISCs during ageing.
HMM-HA improves the maintenance of ISCs during ageing. (CREDIT: Nature)

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,” Gorbunova says. “Our next goal is to transfer this benefit to humans.”


 
 

They believe they can accomplish this through two routes: either by slowing down degradation of HMW-HA or by enhancing HMW-HA synthesis.


“We already have identified molecules that slow down hyaluronan degradation and are testing them in pre-clinical trials,” Seluanov says. “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.”


The transcriptome of nmrHas2 mice undergoes fewer changes during ageing compared with the transcriptome of creER controls.
The transcriptome of nmrHas2 mice undergoes fewer changes during ageing compared with the transcriptome of creER controls. (CREDIT: Nature)

In a world where medical science consistently pushes the boundaries of what was once deemed impossible, this discovery paves the way for a future where increased lifespan and reduced inflammation-related diseases might be within our grasp. As the paradigm of aging research shifts, the implications of this study could be vast, touching everything from healthcare practices to societal structures and personal lifestyles.


 
 

In essence, by peering into the life of a tiny, hairless rodent, scientists might have just unlocked one of the most elusive secrets to a longer, healthier life for humanity. Only time, and extensive research, will reveal the full potential of these initial findings. But for now, the world watches with bated breath, teetering on the precipice of what might be the next significant leap in our understanding of longevity.







For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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