Israeli medical researcher
Israeli medical researcherIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Israeli researchers have discovered a gene that increases the lifespan in mice, and may do the same in humans.

The researchers, led by Dr. Haim Cohen of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, teamed up for the study with scientists from Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem's Hebrew University and the Carnegie Mellon University.

The discovery of the gene, which increases survival in mammals, also increases the likelihood that similar activity can be found in a human gene. The findings of the study were published this week in the prestigious journal, Nature.

A number of genes affecting the lifespan of laboratory animals have recently been discovered. Among them is a group known as Sirtuins, which are found in every species. Within a set of seven genes in this group is one called SIR2, one of the most highly researched and one that prolongs life in yeast, worms and flies. Research of this gene in mammals yielded a set of seven genes, one of which was examined by Cohen's team – SIRT6 – in mice.

"Originally in mice without the gene, researchers saw premature aging,” Cohen said. “They suffered spinal curvature, calcium deficiency and osteoporosis, immune system problems, and diabetes – conditions which are familiar to us in aging humans. "We called the second group, which we created in the laboratory, the 'MOSES' mice and compared their lifespan to that of wild-type mice, which possess a normal amount of SIRT6.”

Two groups of wild-type and MOSES mice were fed a high-fat diet of 60 percent more fat calories than average, Cohen said. The wild mice developed diseases associated with aging, but the MOSES mice remained healthy.

Moreover, the scientists discovered a rise in life expectancy among males, based on calorie restriction, which Cohen said involved the SIRT6 gene. “Females from the very beginning have a longer life expectancy than males because the basic mechanism is already active, so the engineered males just catch up to females,” he said.

"We were the first to show that these sirtuin genes regulate life span in mammals,” Cohen declared. “The research was conducted in laboratory animals under very sterile conditions. Is this what happens in nature? It's not clear. The human SIRT6 gene is very similar to that in mice.

“It could be that drugs designed to activate the gene will have a positive impact on our ability to treat age-related diseases whose frequency increases in the elderly and in the physiological damage caused by obesity,” he said.