Changing the gene in mice allows them to live up to 20 percent longer and protects them from cancer, scientists have confirmed.
Researchers today hailed the discovery as a ‘big surprise’, saying they have so far found no negative side effects.
And the team, from Taiwan, thinks the benefits could one day apply to humans as well.
Mice were genetically-engineered in the laboratory to have a mutation of the KLF1 gene.
These mice lived longer, were unusually active in middle age and were not as gray as before, experts said.
Academia Sinica researchers decided to push their age-defying experiment by injecting blood from long-lived mice.
The study found that genetic modification in mice regenerated cells and delayed age-related deterioration of memory and heart, liver and kidney health. A mutant delivery of the protein KLF1, found in various blood cells, was administered to mice by a team at the Institute of Molecular Biology at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.
The Office for National Statistics predicts that the average age of men born in the UK by 2070 will reach 85, while women will be closer to 88.
Mice given the modified protein ‘normally’ lived about five months longer, an increase of almost 20 per cent.
Two-month-old mice are very similar to 18-year-olds A new scientistHe first reported the discovery.
If their physical and mental performance is not altered, mice will start to decline late and have remained healthy for a long time.
All people already carry the KLF1 gene, which controls the production of new red blood cells.
The findings, published on the preprint website, bioRxivAlso, mice given the mutant KLF1 through a single bone marrow cell transplant ‘appear to have greater anti-cancer potential’ than normal mice.
They showed ‘reduced tumor growth’ and a lower rate of ‘spontaneous cancer’, the researchers said, in 12.5 per cent, compared to 75 per cent of mice that did not undergo the procedure.
The scientists also found that the cancer resistance of KLF1-mutated mice was independent of age, sex, and genetic background.
Overall, the findings demonstrate the ‘feasibility’ of a new approach to producing blood cells for ‘anti-disease and anti-aging’, the researchers said.
‘We have not found any negative side effects so far,’ said Che Kun James Shen, one of the scientists.
Researchers later injected the modified cells into mice, showing similarities with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
ALS, a common form of incurable motor neuron disease, is a rare condition that slowly destroys parts of the nervous system.
This leads to muscle weakness, often with visible wasting.
Mice with mutated KLF1 genes had a much slower progression of the disease, the researchers said.
Commenting on the researchers’ findings, Professor Joao Pedro de Magales, a molecular biogerontologist at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘I am convinced of the life-extending properties of this mutation.’
Gene-edited blood stem cells may also have ‘huge potential as a treatment for ageing,’ he said.
Previous studies have shown that the addition of young blood plasma can regenerate aging organs and tissues, so researchers are racing to develop and test plasma-based therapies.
But while studies have found benefits for mice, there’s no evidence that this approach to youth can help humans age.