Stopping Aging via Remote Control

An anti-aging process that involves remote control of cells? It sounds like science fiction, but it’s getting closer to reality thanks to biologists from UCLA.

The scientists, working with fruit flies, remotely increased levels of a gene called AMPK. The gene, a crucial sensor of energy in cells, gets activated when cellular energy levels are low. Increasing the AMPK levels in the fruit flies’ intestines increased their lifespan to about eight weeks from the normal six; during that time they also stayed healthier longer.

The research was published in the journal Cell Reports. Earlier investigations by the same team identified another gene, called parkin, that delayed the onset of aging and extended the healthy life span of fruit flies.

The findings could have significant implications for delaying human aging and disease, according to senior study author David Walker, an associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at UCLA and senior author of the research. “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,” he said.

Walker cautioned that increased AMPK levels could protect some parts of the body from aging, but that delivering treatment directly to the brain or other crucial organs could be difficult. However, activating AMPK in “accessible” organs like the intestine could ultimately slow the aging process throughout the body.

Humans have AMPK, but it is usually not activated at a high level.

“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 Walker, a member of UCLA’s Molecular Biology Institute. “We are not there yet, and it could, of course, take many years, but that is our goal and we think it is realistic.”

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