Genetic link between life span and cancer
Biologists have uncovered a deep link between life span and cancer in the form of a gene that switches off stem cells as a person ages.
The critical gene, well known for its role in suppressing tumors, seems to mediate a profound balance between life and death. It weighs the generation of new replacement cells, required for continued life, against the risk of death from cancer, which is the inevitable outcome of letting cells divide.
To offset the increasing risk of cancer as a person ages, the gene gradually reduces the ability of stem cells to proliferate.
The new finding, reported by three groups of researchers online yesterday in Nature, was made in a special breed of mice that lack the pivotal gene, but is thought likely to apply to people, as well.
The finding suggests that many degenerative diseases of aging are caused by an active shutting down of the stem cells that renew the body’s various tissues and are not just a passive disintegration of tissues under daily wear and tear. “I don’t think aging is a random process — it’s a program, an anticancer program,” said Dr. Norman E. Sharpless of the University of North Carolina, senior author of one of the three reports.
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