In research that potentially could delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases of aging, biologists have produced a genetic one-two punch that significantly slowed aging and improved health in the middle-aged fruit flies they studied. The approach focuses on mitochondria, the tiny power generators within cells that control the cells’ growth and determine when they live and die. Mitochondria often become damaged with age, and as people grow older, those damaged mitochondria tend to accumulate in the brain, muscles and other organs. When cells can’t eliminate the damaged mitochondria, those mitochondria can become toxic and contribute to a wide range of age-related diseases, said David Walker, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology, and the study’s senior author.
The study, published Sept. 6 in the journal Nature Communications, reports that the UCLA scientists removed the damaged mitochondria by breaking up enlarged mitochondria into smaller pieces — and that when they did, the flies became more active and more energetic and had more endurance. Following the treatment, female flies lived 20 percent longer than their typical lifespan, while males lived 12 percent longer, on average.