A person is 100 times more likely to get cancer at age 65 than at age 35. But new research reported today in the journal Nature Genetics identifies naturally occurring processes that allow many genes to both slow aging and protect against cancer in the much-studied C. elegans roundworm.
Many of the worm genes have counterparts in humans, suggesting that new drugs may some day ensure a long, cancer-free life. The new research and a related study the scientists reported in Science last year indicate that cellular changes leading to longevity antagonize tumor cell growth.
The studies are by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, who say the research also underscores the deep evolutionary connection between lifespan and cancer.
The worms, known formally as Caenorhabditis elegans, were the stars of a startling 1993 discovery by UCSF biologist Cynthia Kenyon, PhD. She found then that a change in just one gene, called daf-2, doubled the worms lifespan. This finding led to the understanding that lifespan is regulated by genes and is therefore changeable, rather than the inevitable result of the bodys breakdown. The discovery in worms has been confirmed in other animals including mice.
The new research by Kenyon and graduate student Julie Pinkston is reported in the advanced online edition of the journal.
Kenyon is the American Cancer Society Professor and director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at UCSF.
This is very exciting, Kenyon said. There is a widely held view that any mechanism that slows aging would probably stimulate tumor growth. But we found many genes that increase lifespan, but slow tumor growth. Humans have versions of many of these genes, so this work may lead to treatments that keep us youthful and cancer-free much longer than normal.
Since her early finding that the gene daf-2 and another gene known as daf-16 regulate lifespan, Kenyons research team h
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University of California - San Francisco