In an animal study, researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) found gene therapy with a proven "longevity" gene to energize during exercise.
Writing about their study in the Public Library of Science - ONE, the researchers expressed the hope that their findings might be applicable to humans in future, and shed light on how to increase the level and quality of activity in the elderly.
"Aging is one of the biggest challenges to a modern society. A pressing issue in the elderly is the loss of activity. What one really wants is not a simple lifespan prolongation but rather a health span increase.
After gene therapy with a 'longevity' gene, we studied how well the mice performed on treadmill exercises. We found that the gene therapy worked well and the mice functioned better after the treatment," said Dongsheng Duan, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology.
Studies conducted in the past have already shown that mice live longer when their genome is altered to carry a gene known as mitochondria-targeted catalase gene (MCAT).
Such approaches, however, would not be applicable to human.
Duan and post-doctoral researcher Dejia Li took a different approach: they placed the MCAT gene inside a benign virus, and injected the virus into the mice.
Thereafter, the researchers tested the mice, and found that they could run farther, faster and longer than other mice of the same age and sex.
Duan attributes the performance enhancement to the MCAT, and believes the gene is responsible for removing toxic substances, known as free radicals, from the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell.
"Our results suggest similar therapy may one day improve the life quality of the elderly. This could have important implications for many diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. These patients typically have too many toxic free radicals in their cells," Duan said.