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Israeli scientist looks to genes to predict healthy aging

Research on SIRT6 protein finds that some DNA damage can be reversed using interventions such as calorie restriction

An elderly couple walk in a public park in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, April 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An elderly couple walk in a public park in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, April 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A new study by a scientist at Ben Gurion University of the Negev makes strides toward identifying the genes that could help predict healthy aging, the university announced on Sunday.

Dr. Deborah Toiber’s latest study, published in the research journal Aging, pinpoints gene expressions that change in pathological aging, as opposed to normal or healthy aging.

Some of the genes that are affected can be reversed using interventions such as restricting calorie intake, the study finds. The research postulated that reversing damage to certain genes may be the key to promoting healthy aging.

Toiber’s research focuses on the protein SIRT6, which helps repair DNA damage. Her earlier research identifies unrepaired DNA damage as a lead cause of aging, accentuated in patients of neurodegenerative diseases.

Dr. Deborah Toiber, Senior Lecturer at Ben Gurion University of the Negev Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and BGU’s Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience​. (courtesy of Ben Gurion University of the Negev).

SIRT6 not only repairs DNA damage, but also signals to other proteins to promote DNA repair.

Furthermore, Toiber has found that SIRT6 is a critical protein for the prevention of neurodegeneration, which can lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“My research for the last several years has focused on unlocking the secrets of SIRT6, which we discovered plays a number of prominent roles in aging,” said Toiber, who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and BGU’s Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience​.

In her latest study, Toiber and her team compared SIRT6-deficient mice to regular mice of different ages. Using their previous findings, they were able to determine the genes “that could predict whether a brain is moving toward healthy aging or pathological aging.”

Illustrative. An elderly patient with Alzheimer’s, dementia. (Chinnapong, iStock by Getty Images)

Furthermore, they identified the genes that are better suited for intervention: the genes whose damage could be reversed using targeted therapies.

“So, in the future a test for changes in a set of genes could tell us whether we are heading toward healthy aging,” said BGU.

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