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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

An age old story, longevity is genetic, study claims

18 April 2011

By Dr Nadeem Shaikh

Appeared in BioNews 604

A research team from King's College London led by Dr Guangju Zhai has completed a meta-analysis of seven genetic studies looking at the role of the hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS), and how it may affect the ageing process in humans.

The hormone is made in the adrenal glands and is activated by conversion into other estrogenic or androgenic hormones. Unlike other adrenal hormones, such as cortisol or aldosterone, DHEAS levels released in the blood go down as people get older. 

By age 85, most people's DHEAS levels have declined by 95 percent. This decline has been linked to ageing and age-related diseases such as certain types of cancer and diabetes, although it is unclear whether the decline is the cause or symptom of disease.

The analysis looked at the genetic profiles and DHEAS levels of more than 14,000 people, and identified eight SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), inside or very close to eight genes. Four of the genes were already linked to age-related processes, while the other four were not previously known to be involved.

Professor Tim Spector, senior author on the paper, said: 'For 50 years, we have observed the most abundant circulating steroid in the body with no clue as to its role. Now its genes have shown us its importance in many parts of the ageing process'.

News of the new research findings led to an increase in DHEAS usage in the USA. Many people there already use supplements of the hormone as an anti-ageing therapy. However, other experts have warned it is too early to say whether the hormone is useful in halting ageing in humans. Professor Anne McArdle, of the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Liverpool, said: ‘The jury is still out on whether it controls ageing'.

The research is published in the journal PLoS Genetics.



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08 April 2013 - by Greg Ball 
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16 January 2012 - by Maria Botcharova 
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24 October 2011 - by George Frodsham 
Researchers have fully sequenced the genome of a woman who lived to be 115 years old. She is the longest-surviving person to have their DNA sequenced and the data may help to unlock the secrets of longer life. Initial investigations suggest that the woman may have had genes which provided protection from diseases such as dementia... [Read More]
03 October 2011 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
A gene associated with increased lifespan in a number of organisms is now thought to have no effect on longevity after a second look revealed significant flaws in the original studies on which the assumptions were based. The findings will disappoint the manufacturers of many anti-ageing creams that claim to work by activating the gene, but are unlikely to put a stop to research... [Read More]

06 December 2010 - by Owen Clark 
Serious doubts have been raised over the validity of a study on the genetic basis on longevity published in the journal Science.... [Read More]
12 July 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
Last week, BioNews reported on a study published in Science that claimed to have identified several gene clusters associated with longevity. The study drew significant media interest but, following the paper's publication, experts have raised concerns about the data... [Read More]
05 July 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
Stories about a genetic test to see if you would live to 100 abounded in the UK press last week. Was this hype or something more? The stories arose following the publication of a paper in Science where researchers claimed to have identified regions of the genome linked to exceptional longevity... [Read More]
24 May 2010 - by Tamara Hirsch 
Scientists have identified several genetic variants linked to living a long life. The right 'suite' of so-called 'Methuselah' genes could offset the ill effects of smoking, drinking and poor diet, the new research shows.... [Read More]
07 December 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Mice produced in the laboratory from two biological mothers and without a father have been found to live significantly longer than normal mice bred from a mother and a father. These findings indicate that genetic traits inherited from the father but not the mother may play an important role in ageing and longevity.... [Read More]

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