New clue in the hunt for treatments that slow ageing

New research published today and part-funded by Parkinson's UK has identified a vital new target in the search for treatments that can slow ageing, and could one day prevent conditions like Parkinson's.

The study, published today in Cell Reports, investigated how giving lithium chloride – a drug that is usually used to treat depression – affects lifespan in fruit flies.

What the researchers did

The team based at University College London gave different doses of lithium chloride to adult fruit flies to measure the effect on lifespan.

Higher doses reduced lifespan but lower doses prolonged life by an average of 16%.

The team found that lithium delays ageing by blocking a molecule inside cells called GSK-3.

Lithium is a powerful drug that can cause significant side effects so it’s not likely that it could be used to slow ageing in people. But this discovery opens the door to developing new, smarter treatments that target GSK-3 and slow down the ageing process.

What are the next steps?

Principal investigator, Professor Dame Linda Partridge, said:

"Our aim is to identify ways to intervene in ageing, with the end goal of keeping us all healthier for longer and compressing the time at the end of life when we suffer from physical decline and diseases.

"The response we’ve seen in flies to low doses of lithium is very encouraging and our next step is to look at targeting GSK-3 in more complex animals with the aim of eventually developing a drug regime to test in humans."

What does this mean for people with Parkinson's?

Claire Bale, Head of Research Communications at Parkinson's UK, says:

"It's encouraging to see that the researchers have been able to identify a key piece of the ageing puzzle, which one day may allow us to intervene in the ageing process.

"Research continues to discover new risk factors for Parkinson's. However, the biggest risk factor for developing the condition is age and the health implications that come with getting older.

"Although Parkinson's can affect younger people, the vast majority of the 127,000 people living with the condition in the UK are over 65 years old.

"This research has the potential to not only help create a healthier older generation, but also provide significant insights into how we could potentially treat or even prevent conditions of ageing like Parkinson's."