London – Scientists have found a protein that could help more people live beyond the age of 100.
The brains of centenarians have higher levels of the ‘REST’ protein, which appears to keep the brain functioning normally, a study found.
Researchers looked at the brains of 227 people who had died without memory problems between the ages of 60 and 100, focusing on the genes which can cause an overactive brain.
The study found those who died at 80 or younger appeared to have had very busy brains, with greater activity in the genes which cause this. Such a busy brain can hinder normal functions like regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, which could contribute to people dying younger.
Those who died at 85 or older, including centenarians, showed less activity in these genes. The people who lived for longer also had higher levels of the REST protein, which scientists suspect could turn off the genes that cause an overactive brain.
When the protein was boosted in worms, the animals showed slower brain cell activity in scans and lived for significantly longer.
Experts now hope to create a tablet or injection to help people live for longer, which could be available in five to 10 years. Professor Bruce Yankner from Harvard Medical School, who led the study, said: "When we look at people who live to a ripe old age… we want to know how these successful agers do it.
"We are currently screening drugs which might boost levels of REST protein and affect the different genes important for suppressing brain activity." The study was published in the journal Nature.