Genes that Both Extend Life and Protect Against Cancer Identified

By Wallace Ravven, UCSF News Services | October 15, 2007

A person is 100 times more likely to get cancer at age 65 than at age 35. But new research reported Oct. 14 in the journal Nature Genetics identifies naturally occurring processes that allow many genes to both slow aging and protect against cancer in the much-studied C. elegans roundworm.

Many of the worm genes have counterparts in humans, suggesting that new drugs may some day ensure a long, cancer-free life. The new research and a related study the scientists reported in Science last year indicate that cellular changes leading to longevity antagonize tumor cell growth.

The studies are by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, who say the research also underscores the deep evolutionary connection between lifespan and cancer.

The worms, known formally as Caenorhabditis elegans, were the stars of a startling 1993 discovery by UCSF biologist Cynthia Kenyon, PhD. She found then that a change in just one gene, called daf-2, doubled the worms' lifespan. This finding led to the understanding that lifespan is regulated by genes and is therefore changeable, rather than the inevitable result of the body's breakdown. The discovery in worms has been confirmed in other animals including mice.


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