Israeli scientists have found a way to increase the life expectancy of mice by 23 percent, in groundbreaking research that they hope to replicate in humans — who could then reach an average age of 120 years old.
The researchers boosted the life expectancy of 250 rodents by increasing the supply of SIRT6, a protein that normally wanes in the aging process, the Times of Israel reported.
In the peer-reviewed research published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists also said the protein-enriched animals were less prone to cancer.
“The change in life expectancy is significant when you consider that an equivalent jump in human life expectancy would have us living on average until almost 120,” Prof. Haim Cohen of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan told the news outlet.
“The changes we saw in mice may be translatable to humans, and if so that would be exciting,” added Cohen, whose lab is working on identifying drugs that may allow the SIRT6 to safely be spiked in people.
In 2012, he became the first researcher to increase the protein levels in animals and boost life expectancy — leading male mice to live 15 percent longer, but that experiment had no impact on female mice, according to the Times of Israel.
The latest study, which included Prof. Rafael de Cabo of the US National Institutes of Health, showed the increased life expectancy among mice of both genders.
But it is bigger among the males, which now live 30 percent longer than males from a control group. The females are living 15 percent longer than their control group counterparts, according to the report.
The scientists saw that aging mice lose the ability to generate energy due to the difficulty of deriving energy from fats and lactic acid.
But older mice with high levels of SIRT6 could easily generate energy from these sources — and had less cholesterol, a lower incidence of cancer, and could also run faster.”This discovery shows that SIRT6 controls the rate of healthy aging, and this shows that boosting its activity could potentially slow aging,” Cohen said.
Although he could easily increase SIRT6 levels in mice by genetically modifying them, boosting the protein in humans would require drugs.
Cohen said his lab may be able to replicate the results in humans in two to three years.
“We are developing small molecules that may increase the levels SIRT6, or make existing amounts of the protein more active,” he said. “They may be used in the future to address aging.”