Scientists discover the key to extending human lifespans and supercharging cancer-fighting cells

Scientists make ‘very important’ breakthrough that will extend human lifespans and fight cancer
Scientists make ‘very important’ breakthrough that will extend human lifespans and fight cancer   -  Copyright  Euronews
By Camille Bello

The researchers aim to reduce cancer recurrence risks, supercharge cancer-killing cells, and explore the potential for extending human lifespans.

Amidst remarkable strides in the past few decades to find ways to extend healthy human lifespans, a recent breakthrough marks another “very important” milestone.

Scientists from Taipei Medical University in Taiwan uncovered a genetic modification in mice that can superpower cancer-killing cells by two to seven times and extend their lifespan by up to 20 per cent.

To further amplify the results from last year’s groundbreaking study, they have now successfully replicated the same extraordinary outcomes from their previous research in ordinary mice through a single transplant of blood stem cells.

The new findings, published in the scientific journal Cold Spring Harbor Protocols, are "very important," said Che-Kun James Shen, lead researcher of the study, who believes that could have profound implications for human health.

"We hope to apply [them] in the near future, and I think if it works, they can go for clinical trials probably next year or by the end of this year," he said to Euronews Next.

The researchers had first identified an amino acid - a protein called KLF1 - that when changed, "maintains all the healthy characteristics of the young age".

This includes "better motor function, improved learning, and memory, but also better anti-cancer cells," said Shen, adding that the mice's hair "was also much more darker and shiny".

One of the critical marks of ageing, fibrosis - a process characterised by the accumulation of fibrous tissue that leads to impaired organ functioning - had also proved to be significantly reduced.

But the latest findings show that the research team have now succeeded in transferring the benefits of the KLF1 amino acid - which plays a significant role in the transcription of genes across different blood cell types - to non-mutant mice thanks to stem cell transplants.

Reducing cancer risk and fighting off cancer cells

Stem cell transplants are a standard therapeutic approach for specific types of blood cancers. And building upon this initial breakthrough, Shen’s team of scientists hope to reduce the risk of cancer resurgence and superpower the cancer-killing cells by genetically modifying human stem cells with KLF1.

While eliminating cancer in itself is a promising prospect, Shen's gene intervention could also have the potential to extend the human lifespan.

Researchers have previously pinpointed many genetic variants that increase the lifespan of mice. Nevertheless, a significant portion of these variants solely benefitted female mice, and there was no known method to transfer the advantages from mutant mice to wild (normal) mice.

"Females always have these kinds of advantages, but in this mouse model, there is no gender bias," said Shen.

Most importantly, he adds, "many of the previous mouse models showed side effects, but with our mice, we have not seen any".

The trials with KLF1 have proven successful when testing with different genetic backgrounds of mice, indicating no specific genetic backgrounds influenced the results.

In other words, the benefits from the research could be universal, suggesting a broader impact.

"I think the model will likely work on all humans," Shen told Euronews Next.

"And you don't have to do a complete bone marrow transplantation, only a partial substitution of 30 or 20 per cent will suffice to make the mice cancer resistant".

The enhanced cancer-killing abilities observed in the mutant mice are due to various biological changes that occur after the gene manipulation.

But the investigators found that the ability of certain cancer-killing cells, such as the T cells and natural killer (NK) cells carrying the amino acid substitution “all have higher cancer cell killing ability, 2 to 7 fold higher, than the wildtype mice [normal mice]."

When the team realised that the genetic modification of the amino acid was “only expressed in blood cells,” they tried injecting certain types of blood cells from the mutant mice into wild mice with promising results.

Does this mean that cancer-fighting bone marrow transplantations can be carried out in humans soon? Shen is hopeful that it could soon be a reality.

"I think ethically, it has to be taken care of, but yeah, that's what we are trying to do," says Shen, adding they are already working to capitalise on their findings to enhance cancer therapies for humans.

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