For years, I’ve followed the research on ageing that seeks to slow down the process. So are we any closer to achieving what could be the Holy Grail of medicine?
Studies from Edinburgh University investigating which proteins could influence how we grow old hint that we might be.
In the largest genetic study of ageing, scientists have uncovered two blood proteins that influence how long and healthy a life we’ll live.
Their ambition is to develop drugs that target these proteins as a way of slowing down the whole process.
From adulthood onwards our bodies are in inevitable decline, which results in age-related diseases and eventually death.
The rate at which we age and die depends on genetics, lifestyle, environment and chance. This study reveals the part played by the proteins (the genetics) in this process.
Our levels of these are determined by the DNA we inherit from our parents and they, in turn, affect our health.
Scientists combined the results of six large genetic studies into ageing – totalling hundreds of thousands of people. They studied 857 proteins and identified two that had powerful negative effects on growing older.
For instance, people who inherited DNA that causes raised levels of these proteins were frailer, had poorer self-rated health, and were less likely to live an exceptionally long life than those who didn’t.
So, what do these proteins do? The first, LPA, is made in the liver and thought to play a role in blood clotting.
High levels of LPA can increase the risk of hardening of arteries which leads to heart disease and stroke.
The second protein, VCAM1, resides on the lining of blood vessels and controls their expansion and contraction in blood clotting and the immune response.
Levels of VCAM1 increase when we have an infection and this gingers up the immune system.
The researchers say with drugs that lower levels of LPA and VCAM1, we might improve the quality and length of our lives.
There’s already a clinical trial testing a drug to lower LPA as a way of diminishing the risk of heart disease, and VCAM1 in early animal studies improved cognition during old age.
“The identification of these two key proteins could help extend the healthy years of life,” says Dr Paul Timmers, lead researcher at the MRC Human Genetics Unit at Edinburgh University.
“Drugs that lower these protein levels in our blood could allow the average person to live as healthy and as long as individuals who’ve won the genetic lottery and are born with genetically low LPA and VCAM1 levels.”
Brave new world!