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A ‘genetic breakthrough’ that prolongs life?

The scientists in Madrid have made a genetic breakthrough by claiming that they can prolong human life and remove cancer threat.

world Updated: Sep 01, 2008 01:27 IST

Imagine living to a healthy 125 years. Your imagination might someday turn into reality, thanks to scientists who have made a genetic breakthrough that they claim can prolong human life and remove cancer threat.

A team at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid has based its conclusion on tests on rodents, which made them live 45 per cent longer and also left them free from tumours.

Scientists said if the experiments can be replicated in people, human lifespan could also be extended.

“The elixir of eternal youth is now not a utopian dream. The discovery opens the door to (the possibility) that humans could live 125 years and without cancer,” the Daily Mail quoted lead scientist Maria Blasco as saying. Scientists inserted an extra copy of three genes — called telomerase, p53 and p16, already known to be important for longevity and suppressing tumours — into the stem cells of mice.

Inserting an extra copy helped them produced more protein, which made them more active. This helped telomerase to protect chromosomes from shrinking, a process which happens naturally as all living creatures age.

It means p53 and p16 work to prevent cells from mutating and dividing, and therefore preventing cancer, while producing a good balance of new, healthy cells — the method is “groundbreaking” as the team managed to get extra copies of both the genes into the mice. The modified mice were allowed to breed to strengthen their new DNA pattern, which created a group of “supermice” with longer lifespans and in-built cancer protection.

“When activating p53 and p16 in mice, the incidence of cancer is reduced to practically zero,” co-scientist Manuel Serrano said.

The mice are expected to live up to four-and-a-half years though normal their average lifespan is three years. “This is the equivalent of humans living to 125,” scientists said.