Researchers link calorie intake to cell lifespan, cancer development (w/ Video)

December 17, 2009
UAB Research Associate Yuanyuan Li, Ph.d., M.D., works in her biology laboratory. Credit: Jamie Cottle/UAB

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have discovered that restricting consumption of glucose, the most common dietary sugar, can extend the life of healthy human-lung cells and speed the death of precancerous human-lung cells, reducing cancer's spread and growth rate.

The research has wide-ranging potential in age-related science, including ways in which restriction can benefit longevity and help prevent diseases like cancer that have been linked to aging, said principal investigator Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., a professor in the Department of Biology.

"These results further verify the potential health benefits of controlling calorie intake." Tollefsbol said. "Our research indicates that extends the lifespan of healthy human and aids the body's natural ability to kill off cancer-forming cells."

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Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have discovered that restricting consumption of glucose, the most common dietary sugar, can extend the life of healthy human-lung cells and speed the death of precancerous human-lung cells. Credit: Jamie Cottle/UAB

The UAB team conducted its tests by growing both healthy human-lung cells and precancerous human-lung cells in laboratory flasks. The flasks were provided either normal levels of glucose or significantly reduced amounts of the sugar compound, and the cells then were allowed to grow for a period of weeks.

"In that time, we were able to track the cells' ability to divide while also monitoring the number of surviving cells. The pattern that was revealed to us showed that restricted led the healthy cells to grow longer than is typical and caused the to die off in large numbers," Tollefsbol said.

In particular, the researchers found that two key genes were affected in the cellular response to decreased glucose consumption. The first gene, , encodes an important enzyme that allows cells to divide indefinitely. The second gene, p16, encodes a well known anti-cancer protein.

"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 UAB research into the links between calorie intake, aging and the onset of diseases related to aging is thought to be a first of its kind given that it used the unique approach of testing human cells versus laboratory animals.

"Our results not only support previous findings from the feeding of animals but also reveal that human longevity can be achieved at the cellular level through caloric restriction," Tollefsbol said.

"The hope is that this UAB breakthrough will lead to further discoveries in different cell types and facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the of humans," he added.

More information: The group's study titled "Glucose Restriction Can Extend Normal Cell Lifespan and Impair Precancerous Cell Growth Through Epigenetic Control of hTERT and p16 Expression" has been published in the online edition of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, or FASEB Journal.

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not rated yet Dec 18, 2009
Damn..And I just had a second cup of coffee full of sugar.
But this sounds to good to be true anyway.. It sounds so dramatic, that we should have long ago clearly see a trend in those skinny people living perhaps even a decade longer than others, on average.. This is obviously not the case.
Perhaps it is only so dramatic with lung cells, and also remember that this research was still "in vitro"..
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2009
Rather than restrict calories, what would have happened if they restricted only carbohydrates and allowed the cells to utilize fatty acids for energy?

In other words, is it the net energy expenditure or is it the energy expenditure from glucose?
Dec 18, 2009
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3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2009
Rather than restrict calories, what would have happened if they restricted only carbohydrates and allowed the cells to utilize fatty acids for energy?

In either eventuality the final result is glucose, and lung cells don't have the capability to break down either complex sugars or fatty acids so the end result would be 100% death due to malnutrition/starvation.
not rated yet Dec 18, 2009
The fact that a calorie-restricted diet extends longevity is well-known and supported by much research, many of it decades old. True also for the relationship between unhealthy dietary habits, obesity, and their contributions to cancer development. People have always associated high refined carbohydrate content in the diet with being overweight. Glucose is a refined carbohydrate. Nothing new here.
not rated yet Dec 18, 2009
Glucose is not the only source of cellular energy:

"Free fatty acids are an important source of fuel for many tissues since they can yield relatively large quantities of ATP. Many cell types can use either glucose or fatty acids for this purpose. In particular, heart and skeletal muscle prefer fatty acids. The brain cannot use fatty acids as a source of fuel; it relies on glucose, or on ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are produced in the liver by fatty acid metabolism during starvation, or during periods of low carbohydrate intake."
not rated yet Dec 18, 2009
"Under normal circumstances, that is, ample glucose and few ketone bodies in the blood, the brain apparently does not oxidize ketones in any significant amounts. In prolonged starvation, the carbohydrate stores of the body are exhausted and the rate of gluconeogenesis is insufficient to provide glucose fast enough to meet the requirements of the brain; blood ketone concentrations rise as a result of the rapid fat catabolism. The brain then apparently turns to the ketone bodies as the source of its energy supply."
3 / 5 (2) Dec 18, 2009
You still need to convert the material into substances that lung tissue can use. Lung tissue is different from most other tissues as it's wholly dependent on other cells to do jsut about everything for it. That's one of the main reasons why it takes so long for lungs to heal from damage, and why lung transplants enjoy a far lower success rate than other tissues.

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