In a first study of its kind, researchers from University of Alabama have tested the benefits of calorie restriction on human lung cells. Past studies have been performed in animals, showing that restricting calories can increase lifespan.
The new study also revealed that human lung cells deprived of glucose, that were precancerous, died in large numbers, compared to cells provided with normal levels of glucose, furthering the notion that calorie restriction can help prevent and halt the spread of cancer.
For this study researchers grew precancerous cells in lab flasks. They then allowed the cells to grow for several weeks, noting that the cells deprived of glucose lived longer than normal.
Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., and professor in the Department of Biology says the studies... "Further verify the potential health benefits of controlling calorie intake. Our research indicates that calorie reduction extends the lifespan of healthy human cells and aids the body's natural ability to kill off cancer-forming cells."
The researchers found two genes - telomerase that encodes an important enzyme that permits cells to divide indefinitely, and p16 that encodes a recognized protein that prevents cancer.
"Opposite effects were found for these genes in healthy cells versus precancerous cells. The healthy cells saw their telomerase rise and p16 decrease, which would explain the boost in healthy cell growth," Tollefsbol said. "The gene reactions flipped in the precancerous cells with telomerase decreasing and the anti-cancer protein p16 increasing, which would explain why these cancer-forming cells died off in large numbers." The findings have important implications about the role of calorie restriction, healthy aging and preventing age-related diseases such as cancer.
The research team hopes the current findings that calorie restriction extended lifespan at a cellular level, found in a study of human lung cells, will lead to more discoveries in different human cell types. Scientists could then develop novel approaches to extend human lifespan, and prevent age related cancer and other diseaes.