Following on from last week's post on intermittent fasting research, here is a profile of the scientist coordinating that study and other, related work:
[Valter Longo worked] in the UCLA lab of Roy Walford, a renowned practitioner of calorie restriction for longevity. For part of that time, Longo used a video conferencing system to communicate with Walford, who was sealed inside a self-contained glass structure called Biosphere 2 in the Arizona desert from 1991 to 1993. After a couple of years, Longo decided that he wanted to bring a more molecular approach to questions of aging. Looking at yeast, a very simple unicellular organism, he discovered a group of genes that promote the aging process in response to glucose. By knocking out these genes, he could mimic a calorie- and glucose-restricted diet and extend the life span of yeast.
First as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a faculty member and director of the Longevity Institute at USC, Longo has continued this research into the genes that control aging. In 2001, he discovered another important group of yeast genes that control both aging and overall growth in response to amino acids. He later found a population of humans in Ecuador that had a mutation in the equivalent genes. As a result, they lacked a growth-hormone receptor, and this made them both small in stature and long-lived, with very little susceptibility to diabetes or cancer.
By inhibiting these same groups of genes either by mutations or starvation, Longo has found evidence that healthy cells might receive protection not only from the stresses of aging, but also from the effects of chemotherapy, and that cancer cells might become more sensitive to chemotherapy. Clinical trials are currently underway [to] explore whether fasting can improve outcomes in patients receiving chemotherapy for lymphoma as well as breast, prostate and colorectal cancers.