Altering a gene in mice allows them to live up to 20 per cent longer and protects them against cancer, scientists have discovered.
Researchers today hailed the findings as a ‘big surprise’, saying they’ve yet to find any negative side effects.
And the team, from Taiwan, think the benefits could one day apply to humans, too.
Rodents were genetically-engineered in a lab to have a mutated version of the KLF1 gene.
These mice ended up living longer, were unusually active in middle-age and did not go grey as early, experts claimed.
Pushing their age-defying experiment further, researchers at Academia Sinica then decided to inject a group of unmodified mice with blood from the rodents found to live longer.
The study showed the genetic modification rejuvenated cells in mice and delayed the age-dependent deterioration of their memory and heart, liver and kidney health. The mutated supply of the protein KLF1, found in a range of blood cells, was given to mice by a team from the Institute of Molecular Biology at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan
The Office for National Statistics predicts the life expectancy of men born in 2070 in the UK will reach the age of 85 on average, while women will be nearly 88 when they die
Mice given the modified protein ‘typically’ lived for five months longer, an increase of around 20 per cent.
Two-month-old mice are very roughly equivalent to 18-year-old people, according to New Scientist, which first reported the findings.
They also remained healthier for longer, with their physical and mental performance starting to decline later than unmodified mice.
All humans already carry the KLF1 gene, which regulates the production of new red blood cells.
The findings, published on pre-print website, bioRxiv, also found the mice given the mutated KLF1 via a single bone marrow cell transplant, ‘appeared to have significantly higher anti-cancer capability’ than normal mice.
They showed ‘reduced tumour growth’ and lower rate of ‘spontaneous cancer incidence’, researchers said, at 12.5 per cent compared to 75 per cent in mice who did not undergo the procedure.
The cancer resistance of KLF1-mutated mice was not dependent on their age, gender or genetic background, scientists also found.
Overall, the findings have ‘demonstrated the feasibility’ of a new approach to blood cell production ‘for anti-disease and anti-ageing’, the researchers said.
One of the scientists, Che-Kun James Shen, said: ‘So far, we have not found any negative side effects.’
Researchers also later injected modified cells, which show similarities to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) into the mice.
ALS, a common form of the incurable motor neurone disease, is a rare condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system.
This leads to muscle weakness, often with visible wasting.
Mice with the mutated KLF1 genes were found to have significantly slower progress of the condition, researchers said.
Responding to the researchers findings, Professor Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, a molecular biogerontologist at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘I am convinced of the life-extending properties of this mutation.’
Gene editing blood stem cells could also have ‘great potential as a therapy for ageing’, he added.
It comes as previous studies have also found infusions of young blood plasma could reinvigorate ageing organs and tissues, leading researchers to rush to produce and trial therapies based on the plasma.
But while studies have found benefits for rodents, there is no evidence to date that this approach to youthfulness will help humans dodge the passage of time.