Scientists' work on 'thread of life' protein raises cancer drug hopes

Some of the structure of the beta-Klotho protein. Source: Yale University

Scientists have unravelled some of the ‘longevity protein’ for the first time, leading to hopes of new treatments for a wide range of conditions from diabetes to some cancers.

Science Daily reports that a Yale University-led study revealed the three-dimensional structure of one of the so-called Klotho proteins that have a big role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. The protein they worked on, called beta-Klotho (after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life), is one of two that live on the cells of some of our tissues, Science Daily explains.

The proteins “regulate critical metabolic processes in the liver, kidneys, and brain, among other organs,” the research news site added. By creating a 3-D view of beta-Klotho, as shown in a video on Yale University’s news website, the researchers produced a few new findings, including how the protein works with a hormone we produce when starving, as well as how a related enzyme works with hormones that lower blood sugar.

The findings mean that researchers can now look at potential drugs to better target diabetes and obesity, as well as liver cancer and bone diseases, according to the report. “The next step will be to make better hormones, make new potent blockers, do animal studies, and move forward,” the study’s senior author, Joseph Schlessinger, told Science Daily.

The research was first published in Nature journal. It’s one of many studies related to longevity, that look at everything from the personality traits linked to a longer life to the lifestyle habits that can improve longevity.

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Genetics aside, it comes down to two things, according to a study of data collected in 25 studies in Australia and other large Western countries: maintaining a healthy weight and getting an education.

The study by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, published in 2017, looked at the genes that determined lifespan, then looked at the lifespans themselves of more than 600,000 people, to work out what impact the genes had on actual lifespan. From that, they were able to determine what lifestyle factors also had an impact.

People who are overweight reduced their life expectancy by about two months for every extra kilogram (2.2 pounds) they carry, the researchers found, while every year spent studying beyond high school added an extra year to life. 

If you struggle with your weight and didn’t finish school, though, there may be some personality factors that’ll give you a boost in the longevity stakes. A study in 2017 of exceptionally long-lived villagers in Italy found that being stubborn, optimistic and controlling were all traits linked to longevity. Sharing a strong bond to family and the land were also contributors, the research found.

Do you think scientists will eventually crack the secret of eternal life? Do you believe a cure for cancer will be discovered in your life time?