Science Finds Pathways That Extend Life By Five Hundred Percent

Science has discovered how to expand your lifespan by 500%. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news? Right now, it’s only cause for celebration for C. elegans, a small nematode worm. Of course, when you consider that C. elegans has an average lifespan of three to four weeks, those little nematodes really should be celebrating!

Scientists have found synergistic cellular pathways for longevity in the nematodes that amplify their lifespan five-fold. The work was done in a collaborative effort between researchers at MDI Biological Laboratory, the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California and Nanjing University in China.

They chose to search for the pathways in C. elegans because, despite being a 1 millimeter-long worm that lives in temperate soil and is, well, a worm, they share many genes with humans. They are commonly used as a model in aging research. Their short lifespan lets the scientists make short work of figuring out the impact of environmental and genetic interventions intended to extend healthy lifespan. Their research draws on the discovery of two specific, major pathways which govern aging in the nematodes.

The increase in C. elegans lifespan accomplished in the research would be the equivalent of a human being living for 4 or 5 centuries, according to one of the scientists involved.

These pathways have been the subject of intensive research and there are a significant number of anti-aging drugs in the development pipeline that extend healthy lifespan by altering these pathways. A large part of the reason for this is the “conservation” of these pathways, which means they have been passed down to humans through evolution. The discovery of this synergistic effect seems to open the door to even more effective anti-aging therapies.

In this research, a double mutant was used. Both the insulin signaling (IIS) and TOR pathways had been genetically altered. The double mutant was expected to live 130 percent longer, since the alteration of the IIS pathway results in a 100 percent increase in lifespan and the TOR pathway alteration results in a 30 percent increase. Researchers were surprised when the double mutation resulted in its lifespan being increased by 500 percent.

“Despite the discovery in C. elegans of cellular pathways that govern aging, it hasn’t been clear how these pathways interact,” said Hermann Haller, M.D., president of the MDI Biological Laboratory. “By helping to characterize these interactions, our scientists are paving the way for much-needed therapies to increase healthy lifespan for a rapidly aging population.”

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The cellular mechanisms and their control of the synergistic response was the subject of a paper in the online journal Cell Reports. The paper, titled “Translational Regulation of Non-autonomous Mitichondrial Stress Response Promotes Longevity” sounds like a real page turner, doesn’t it? It may, however, be the first step in identifying the path to extending healthy human lifespan.

“The synergistic extension is really wild,” said Rollins, who is the lead author with Jianfeng Lan, Ph.D., of Nanjing University. “The effect isn’t one plus one equals two, it’s one plus one equals five. Our findings demonstrate that nothing in nature exists in a vacuum; in order to develop the most effective anti-aging treatments we have to look at longevity networks rather than individual pathways.”

Combination therapies may well result from the discovery of the synergistic interaction. In these therapies, each aspect would affect a different pathway, thereby extending healthy human lifespan. It’s similar to the way that combination therapies are used to treat HIV and cancer, according to Pankaj Kapahi, Ph.D., of the Buck Institute.

The discovery of this synergistic interaction may also shed light on why science has struggled to find a single gene responsible for some people’s ability to remain free of age-related diseases and conditions deep into their 80’s, 90’s and even later.

Mitochondria were the focus of this research. These cellular organelles are responsible for energy homeostasis. Evidence has been mounting for more than 10 years that there is a causative link between aging and mitochondrial dysregulation. Rollins and his team intend to focus future research on the role of mitochondria in the aging process.

You may never have seen a nematode, but those little worms might be the key to you living a longer healthy lifespan. Sometimes the biggest discoveries are found in the smallest places, or in this case, critters. Pretty cool, huh?

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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