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Nutrition

Starvation--And Long Life--In A Pill?

14 years, 4 months ago

1685  0
Posted on Mar 05, 2005, 5 a.m. By Bill Freeman

NEW YORK - Roy Walford, a scientist at the University of California, was willing to go to extreme lengths to extend his life. After finding that rodents fed an incredibly skimpy diet lived long lives, Walford put himself on equally bare rations, consuming a mere 1,600 calories per day and keeping his weight at 130 pounds.
NEW YORK - Roy Walford, a scientist at the University of California, was willing to go to extreme lengths to extend his life.

After finding that rodents fed an incredibly skimpy diet lived long lives, Walford put himself on equally bare rations, consuming a mere 1,600 calories per day and keeping his weight at 130 pounds. Walford didn't beat the odds; he succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease last year at the age of 71. But for many, the evidence that low-calorie diets can extend life has remained tantalizing--especially if, as Walford proposed, it was likely to boost the human life span to 120 years or more.

There's only one problem, of course. Most people would rather not scrape by on a nutritional bare minimum, especially if cancer or a car accident could come and steal it all away in an instant. If caloric restriction has such a huge benefit, couldn't we get it in an easier-to-swallow package? Such as, say, a pill?

New research appearing in the journal Nature could be a big step in that direction. It shows how starvation triggers a particular gene that has already been linked by years of research to the processes of aging.

Researchers--and at least one biotech startup--have been working on exactly that front. Almost a decade ago, Leonard Guarente at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found a gene called SIR2 in brewer's yeast that, when mutated, seemed to extend the yeast's life. Cynthia Kenyon, a researcher at the University of California in San Francisco, found a life-extending gene in C. elegans, a tiny species of worm. Amazingly, the two genes were almost exactly the same--meaning they had been conserved through millions of years of evolution. Guarente and Kenyon are among the co-founders of Elixir Pharmaceuticals, a startup that hopes to turn its work into medicines to slow aging and fight a litany of diseases from cancer to heart disease and diabetes.

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