Biologists say they have identified a gene that can slow the body's aging process when activated remotely in key organ systems.
Working with fruit flies, researchers at UCLA used the gene, called AMPK, to increase lifespans by about 30 percent, the university
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The research showed that triggering AMPK sped the process of getting rid of "cellular garbage," the scientists say, noting that many neurodegenerative diseases are associated with the buildup of protein aggregates, a type of cellular garbage, in the brain.
"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 David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research.
"We are not there yet, and it could, of course, take many years, but that is our goal and we think it is realistic," he said.
"The ultimate aim of our research is to promote healthy aging in people."
The research was published last week in Cell Reports
"We have shown that when we activate the gene in the intestine or the nervous system, we see the aging process is slowed beyond the organ system in which the gene is activated," Walker explained.
AMPK is triggered when cellular energy levels are low. Humans have the gene, but it is not usually activated at high levels, Walker said.
The scientists said they used the fruit fly for studying aging in humans because all of its genes have been identified and because it's possible to switch individual genes on and off. They looked at about 100,000 of them over the course of the study, the university said.
Walker said AMPK is thought to be a key target of metformin, a drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes, and that metformin activates AMPK.
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