A protein known to keep cancer at bay now also looks to be a fountain of youth. Mice with an extra copy of the tumour-killing gene that pumps out this protein live longer than those with just one copy, and are better at combating the cell damage that causes ageing. The finding hints that a drug designed to boost the tumour suppressor, called p53, could work as an anti-ageing treatment for people, says Manuel Serrano, a biologist at Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid. Serrano’s team publish their work in this week’s Nature.
The conclusion seems to stand in direct contradiction to previous work, which showed that a boost in p53 kept mice cancer free but also caused them to age more quickly. But there’s a key difference between these studies, the researchers say: in the new work, the normal regulatory mechanisms remain in place, so p53 is churned out only when needed. This seems to turn an ageing protein into a youth-preserving one.