Scientists in Beijing have developed a new gene therapy technique which can reverse some of the effects of ageing in mice and extend their lifespans.
They are optimistic that their findings may one day contribute to a similar treatment for humans.
Their method, reported this month in the journal Science Translational Medicine, involves inactivating a gene which the researchers found to be a key factor in cellular ageing.
The specific therapy they used and the results it generated are a world’s first, said co-supervisor of the project Professor Qu Jing, 40, a specialist in ageing and regenerative medicine from the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
“After six to eight months, these mice show overall improved appearance and grip strength and most importantly they have extended lifespan for about 25%,” she said.
The team of CAS biologists screened thousands of genes to find those which were particularly strong drivers of cellular ageing.
The team identified one gene, kat7, as the most efficient contributor to ageing in cells and then inactivated it in the livers of laboratory mice, Reuters reports.
“We just tested the function of the gene in the human stem cell, in the human liver cell and the mouse liver cell and for all of these cells we didn’t see any detectable cellular toxicity. And for the mice, we also didn’t see any side effects yet,” Qu said.
Despite this, the method is a long way from being ready for human trials.
“It’s still definitely necessary to test the function of kat7 in other cell types of humans and other organs of mice and in other pre-clinical animals before we use the strategy for human ageing or other health conditions,” Qu said.
The team hopes to be able to test the method on primates next, but that will require a lot of funding and much more research first.
Qu spelled out their ambitions: “We hope that we can find a way to delay ageing even by a very minor percentage in the future.”