© Reuters/Susana Vera
In an experiment on fruit flies, UCLA biologists activated just one gene, AMPK, which extended their lifespan by nearly a third, by helping them to get rid of "cellular garbage" causing old age diseases such as Parkinson's. Humans have the same gene.
"Instead of studying the diseases of aging - Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes - one by one, we believe it may be possible to intervene in the aging process and delay the onset of many of these diseases," said author David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA, whose paper was published
last week in the scientific journal Cell Reports
"We are not there yet, and it could, of course, take many years, but that is our goal and we think it is realistic."
UCLA's laboratory conducted the study on 100,000 fruit flies, used because they have been genetically mapped, and scientists can easily mutate just one gene within a population, limiting variables, and ensuring a perfectly controlled experiment.
Those flies with the gene activated in their intestines lived just over eight weeks, instead of the usual six, and, almost as crucially, remained healthier for longer into their lifespans. Projected onto the current US life expectancy of 78, this would correspond to an average lifetime of 101 years.