Off-patent protein could be a key to Longevity

Could off-patent humanin actually have a bigger part to play in Longevity and healthy aging?

They say that good things come in small packages and a new study has revealed that this may certainly be true when it comes to this small protein. 

Longevity.Technology: New research, carried out by a team at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology [1], has revealed that humanin, a tiny protein, could have the potential not only help to prevent age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s but that it could actually increase lifespan. 

The study is the first to set out clear evidence that humanin has a significant impact on health and Longevity in both animals and humans. 

Researchers looked at the role of humanin in a number of species, including worms and mice, as well as humans, including people with Alzheimer’s and children of centenarians. Humanin levels are already known to decrease for many species as they age.

Researchers specifically looked at people predisposed to living longer lives; together with certain species including the naked mole rat, previously discussed in a Longevity.Technology interview with Dr Steven Austad of the University of Alabama, which defies many biological laws of aging, often living for more than 30 years, despite its small size.

In the study, humanin – which is a peptide encoded in the small genome of the mitochondria – was analysed and researchers found that higher levels of humanin in the body are linked to longer lifespans and better health. 

The scientists observed that species which are already predisposed to long life, including the naked mole rat had high levels of humanin, while mice, in contrast, experience a 40% decrease in humanin over the first 18 months of their life and primates experienced a similar notable decrease between the ages of 19 and 25. 

Interestingly, the research showed higher, more sustained, humanin levels in children of centenarians compared to a control group. In some species, including worms and mice, the team went on to discover that modifying their genes to increase humanin levels increased lifespan. However, this was at the expense of the number of offspring the animals produced.

“Humanin has long been known to help prevent many age-related diseases, and this is the first time that it has been shown that it can also increase lifespan,” said senior author Pinchas Cohen, professor of gerontology, medicine and biological sciences and dean of the USC Leonard Davis School

Scientists also looked at cerebral spinal fluid from Alzheimer’s patients and a control group, finding that humanin levels were significantly lower in the group with Alzheimer’s. 

This new study is part of a growing body of research into the importance of humanin in delaying the aging process, and it is now hoped that it could pave the way for the development of mitochondrial protein-based treatments for age-related disease and conditions. 

“… its potent effects on neurodegenerative diseases … convinced us of the importance of this peptide and the new biology.”

However, Dr Nir Barzilai, who is Director of the Einstein-Institute for Aging Research, has warned that a lack of business motivation for the development of a humanin-based drug could lead to a failure to realize the potential of humanin in the drive for greater Longevity.

New research, at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, has revealed that humanin, a tiny protein, could have the potential to increase lifespan. 
Dr Nir Barzilai

“On one hand,” Dr Barzilai told us, “this is the first of many mitochondrial derived peptides that were discovered and led to a whole new field of genetics and biology. Indeed, my group studied humanin in the past and demonstrated marked effects on insulin secretion and peripheral glucose metabolism through its actions on the hypothalamus (a small region of the brain near the pituitary gland). 

“In addition to its potent effects on neurodegenerative diseases, it convinced us of the importance of this peptide and the new biology. On the other hand, and sadly so, the patent on humanin analogues expired and there is no business initiative for biotech or pharmaceutical to develop it as a drug. Such problems should be handled at government level otherwise the options for effective therapy for a variety of age-related diseases may be stalled and sink.”

It now remains to be seen whether there is an appetite at business, pharmaceutical and government level to develop humanin-based treatments in the pursuit of effective anti-aging therapies.