Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Boosting self-destruction of cells can help us live longer: Study

Autophagy is body's natural mechanism for self-destruction of cells, which is critical for human survival, as it helps the body get rid of unwanted or toxic substances

New Delhi: Scientists have found that it would be safer to increase autophagy in humans through gene mutation so that they can live longer and healthier lives.

The new findings will have huge implications on ageing and age-related diseases for the masses.

Autophagy is body’s natural mechanism for self-destruction of cells, which is critical for human survival, as it helps the body get rid of unwanted or toxic substances.

However, this ability to perform autophagy declines with age, and is likely to contribute to ageing and onset of age-related diseases, including renal, cardiac and neuro-degenerative disorders.

It had been known for decades that the body’s ability to self-destruct cells (autophagy) could make us live longer, and earlier researches had confirmed results in model organisms, including yeast and fruit fly.

But despite these clues, a definitive evidence of its role in promoting longevity in humans was lacking. Researchers were confounded with crucial questions on whether autophagy can actually extend lifespan of humans and, if yes, would it be safer to increase autophagy using drugs or inducing mutation in genes.

The new research published in the Nature journal explored the very questions and suggested that it should be safe to increase autophagy on a chronic basis to treat diseases such as neuro-degeneration in humans.

Researchers created a genetically-engineered mouse that had persistently increased levels of autophagy by inducing a mutation in Beclin 1 gene and found that they live longer, healthier lives.

“Specifically, they have about a 10 per cent increase in lifespan and are less likely to develop age-related spontaneous cancers and age-related pathological changes in the heart and the kidney," said researcher Dr Beth Levine, director of the Centre for Autophagy Research at UT Southwestern Medical Centre, USA.

Building on two decades of research, the team of scientists at UT South-western Medical Centre, US, have also demonstrated a strategy for gene mutation that could make it possible to increase autophagy in humans, prevent premature ageing, improve health-span and promote longevity in mammals.

“The results suggest that it should be safe to increase autophagy on a chronic basis to treat diseases such as neurodegeneration. Furthermore, they reveal a specific target for developing drugs that increase autophagy-namely the disruption of Beclin 1 binding to Bcl-2," said Dr Levine.

The latest findings, corroborated with genetic proof, have important implications for human health and efforts to develop drugs to prevent age-related diseases, neuro-degeneration and to combat cancer.

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