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BEIJING (Reuters) – A new gene therapy has been created by scientists in Beijing that can reverse some of the effects of aging in mice and prolong their lifespans, results that could one day lead to similar treatment for humans.

The procedure, detailed earlier this month in a paper in the Science Translational Medicine journal, requires the inactivation of a gene called kat7, which scientists found to be a key contributor to cellular ageing.

The particular treatment they used and the outcomes were a world first, said project co-supervisor Professor Qu Jing, 40, an Institute expert in ageing and regenerative medicine.

“These mice show after 6-8 months overall improved appearance and grip strength and most importantly they have extended lifespan for about 25%,” Qu said.

The CRISPR/Cas9 approach was used by the team of biologists from various CAS departments to test thousands of genes for those that were particularly strong drivers of cellular senescence, the term used to characterize cellular ageing.
One of tens of thousands of genes present in mammalian cells is Kat7. Using a process called a lentiviral vector, the researchers inactivated it in the livers of the mice.

“We just tested the function of the gene in different kinds of cell types, in the human stem cell, the mesenchymal progenitor cells, in the human liver cell and the mouse liver cell and for all of these cells we didn’t see any detectable cellular toxicity. And for the mice, we also didn’t see any side effect yet.”

Despite this, the method is a long way from being ready for human trials, Qu said.

“It’s still definitely necessary to test the function of kat7 in other cell types of humans and other organs of mice and in the other pre-clinical animals before we use the strategy for human ageing or other health conditions,” she said.

Qu said she hopes to be able to test the technique next on primates, but first it would take a lot of funding and a lot more testing.

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